It had been a while since I had visited Montreal (over a quarter century, truth be told), and when you’re way out here on the western periphery of Canada, it can often feel (truth be told) as if the country stops at Toronto. My sincerest apologies to La Belle Province for my extended absence.
Having said that, I was so happy to have the chance last spring to renew my acquaintance with the second largest city in Canada. I learned a thing or two.
For one: I can’t wait to go back.
That’s in spite of the fact that my first impression of the city was this: There is an insane amount of road work going on over there. My taxi driver from the train station tried to warn me, but he used the word “construction.”
“Sure,” I nodded. “Lots of construction going on in Vancouver, too.”
But no. My taxi driver wasn’t talking about new condo developments. He meant road work. They say there are two seasons in Canada — winter and construction — and nowhere is that more true than in Montreal. Literally every street corner had a digger on it.
The other surprise for me about Montreal? That it isn’t bigger than it is. Somehow I was expecting it to be closer in size to Toronto than Vancouver, but that just isn’t so.
Here, have a look. This is the city’s skyline as seen from the top of Mont Royal.
Ever seen a Surf Scoter? In Vancouver, November is peak season to see these diving ducks. Large rafts of them hang out in English Bay where they feed on clams and mussels.
To see the ducks so close to the shore, however, is a bit unusual. I got lucky one afternoon about a week ago.
I was beyond thrilled to see my first ever Steller’s Jay a couple of weeks ago while on a long walk through Stanley Park.
About six of them darted back and forth from the trees to the seeds put out by a fellow birder and back to the trees again.
With migration season upon us, you never know who you might bump into while out for a walk in the woods.
After all my whinging about the rain, we’ve had some spectacular fall days these past couple of weeks.
And here’s a thing about Vancouver: when it stops raining, the entire city drops what they’re doing and goes for a walk.
Because, this time of year, we know it won’t last.
All right. It’s high time I post something to acknowledge the game often referred to as the “national pastime.”
And no, I’m not talking about Canadian federal elections — although, given our proclivity for minority governments (yesterday we elected our
third fourth in 15 years), you would not be wrong in thinking so.
I’m talking about baseball. And yes, I know it’s our neighbours to the south who consider it a national pastime much more so than we Canadians do, but we do have some fans in this country. Basically, all of Toronto during the Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. (I was one of them.)
Here in Vancouver, we don’t have a Major League Baseball team, but I know a few people who will be tuned in to the first game of the 2019 World Series, which got underway tonight.
Some of those people I’m related to, and they like to hang at the Nat every summer. I went along one night last August, just for something different to do (and to take a few photographs).
The full name of Vancouver’s ball park is Nat Bailey Stadium, named after the founder of White Spot (a popular Vancouver restaurant chain best known for their burgers). The home team is the Vancouver Canadians, the one Canadian team in the Northwest League of Minor League Baseball. They are also the Short Season A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays — and please don’t ask me what that means, as I have no idea. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)
It turns out that the Nat is a really fun place to hang out on a summer’s evening — with all the emphasis on fun. Several of each season’s home games are followed by a fireworks display and one is designated Dog Day of Summer — you get to take your four-legged best friend with you to the Nat. If you’re thirsty, there is craft beer; if you’re hungry, there are three-foot long hot dogs. And for entertainment (in addition to the game, of course), there are the Sushi Mascot races — Ms. BC Roll, Mr. Kappa Maki, and Chef Wasabi race around the diamond. A winner is always declared, but if your appetite is whetted, be assured you can also get sushi at the concession stands.
As it happens, the game I went to last August was a close one, finishing off with a walk-off single. But even if the Canadians hadn’t won, the night was winner.
Today marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. He died in Amsterdam in 1669, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. I want to acknowledge the anniversary of his death for one simple reason: Rembrandt is one of my favourite artists.
You don’t really get a sense of what Rembrandt means to the Dutch until you see how his most famous painting, The Night Watch (in Dutch: De Nachtwacht), is displayed in the country’s national museum, the Rijksmuseum. The painting is the focal point of the immense Gallery of Honour and your eyes are immediately drawn to it as soon as you enter the gallery.
About a kilometre away from the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square), one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares. Now the centre of the city’s infamous nightlife, its origins were as a butter and dairy market. In the centre of the square is a cast iron statue of Rembrandt that dates back to 1852. That’s a photo of the statue up above. At the artist’s feet are life-size bronze cast statues of the some of the subjects depicted in The Night Watch, which were created to celebrate Rembrandt’s 400th birthday back in 2006. In the photo below are the two central figures: Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (on the left) and Willem van Ruytenburch (on the right).
The Rijksmuseum is calling 2019 “The Year of Rembrandt,” and it is celebrating with a variety of special events and exhibitions. The museum has also begun a year-long study and restoration of The Night Watch in full view of museum visitors.
Who could have known when Rembrandt died, alone and penniless, that 350 years later so many people from all over the world would be so enthralled with his work?
Every once in a while, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.
Such was the case this afternoon.
The Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows have been on a North American tour. This afternoon, they did several flypasts over Burrard Inlet.
I was there.
Could this month be any wetter? Vancouver has already received more than twice the average rainfall for September — and we still have another week to get through.
Yes, it’s time for my annual kvetching about the transition from what was an absolutely spectacular, magnificent, fabulous summer (as far as the weather is concerned) to the annual Wet.
I know, I know. It’s inevitable. Unavoidable. What was I thinking would happen?
But did it have to happen overnight? And so close to Labour Day? This month’s quick change in seasons reminds me of Septembers in Alberta, where I grew up. The day before Labour Day always seemed like the heat of summer was still in full swing. The day after Labour Day? Out came the long pants, the woolly sweaters, and a coat thick enough to keep away the chill of the prairie wind.
When I lived in Toronto, I absolutely loved fall. Four months of humidity will do that to you. All I could think come September was, “Relief!” (Not to mention that the colour display by Toronto’s tree canopy is among the best in the world.)
But on the Wet Coast? Not such a fan. Earlier this month, I decided to put some effort into making a nice dinner one night to cheer myself up. A thought flashed through my mind — “Oh, this is cozy” — and I immediately felt betrayed by my own body for adapting much more quickly than my brain to our vanishing summer.
The truth, however, is that there is nothing for it but to get on with it. Buy a new umbrella, dig the gum boots and Gore-Tex out of the closet, and just … get on with it.
What else can I do?
Happy Autumnal Equinox, everyone!
I’m so thankful there are people in this world who can see something in a whole lot of nothing.
Jennie Butchart was one of those people. She looked out over a dug-up limestone quarry and saw a garden.
Painstakingly planted and nurtured by Jennie and her descendants, the Butchart Gardens are the crown jewel of Victoria’s gardens — a city whose nickname is, appropriately, Garden City.
There are four gardens at Butchart, each one unique and each one remarkable. The Sunken Garden was the first to be developed, on the site of the old quarry. As the limestone was exhausted, Jennie began planning her garden. She had top soil brought in by horse and cart and the five-acre garden took nine years to build.
Next to be built were the Japanese Gardens. In the springtime, it is bursting with colour when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. In the fall, the Japanese maples glow orange and red.
The Butchart family’s former tennis court was eventually transformed into the Italian Gardens.
Last to be planted was the Rose Garden. Today, it has 30 rose arches and 280 varieties of roses.
New to me was the Mediterranean Garden — a fifth garden that has been added since my last visit.
My friends and I spent most of a Sunday marvelling at and photographing the flowers at Butchart Gardens. We wondered aloud whether the colour palette of the Sunken Garden changes from year to year. We enjoyed gelato in the Italian Gardens. And we all agreed that the one-year pass is an incredible deal (paid for in as few as two visits) because the gardens need to be seen in all four seasons.
I was a teenager the first time I went to Butchart Gardens, but regardless of whether you see it only once in your lifetime, or you return dozens of times, know this: each visit is as mind-blowing as your first visit.
Ten years ago today, and three months ahead of schedule, the Canada Line came into service. Built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it connects downtown Vancouver to the airport in 24 minutes. (That’s as fast as a taxi and a whole lot cheaper.) Right from the start, it exceeded ridership estimates and is already running nearly at capacity.
The Canada Line has forever changed how I travel to and from Vancouver. Being able to get from my downtown condo to the Vancouver International Airport (known as YVR around town — the name of the Canada Line station is YVR Airport) as quickly as I can for only $2.50 is a traveller’s dream.
It has also forever changed this city. High-density residences and retail spaces that weren’t even dreamed of ten years ago have been built at Marine Drive and are in the planning stages for Oakridge. I saw a quotation this week that pretty much summed up how the Canada Line has changed Vancouver: “you don’t build urban rail primarily for transit, but for shaping growth.”
And so … happy birthday, Canada Line!