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Merry Christmas!

Kensington Place, English Bay, Vancouver

Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful

Oooh boy. Christmas travel is chaotic at best, but this year is turning out to be a real doozy. On top of today being the busiest travel day of the year, as per usual, the entire country from coast to coast to coast is being walloped by storms.

Here in Vancouver, it’s our third storm since Sunday. Bridges are closed, some lines of the Skytrain aren’t running, and this afternoon I waded through a week’s worth of snow in a futile attempt to get groceries. (Given Vancouver’s minimal snow removal budget, our residential side streets do not get cleared.)

Half of the flights out of Vancouver since Sunday have been cancelled. And as soon as one major Canadian airport is a mess, there’s a ripple effect on all other major airports in the country because none of the planes and flight crews are where they’re supposed to be. Two young people related to me spent most of Tuesday at YVR, hoping against hope their flight to Alberta would go. It did not, and they left instead by train this afternoon, hoping to get home to their parents by Christmas Eve. I told them that taking a train through the Rockies was a rite of passage; I didn’t have the heart to tell them that VIA Rail never runs on time.

Locally, BC Ferries has cancelled multiple sailings, not only due to the inclement weather, but because of frozen pipes and staff not being able to get to the terminals. Yesterday, the BC government held an impromptu news conference, and the minister with the most unwieldy portfolio title ever — Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — urged everyone to stay off the roads except in case of emergency.

That it is the first Christmas since the start of the pandemic where people finally feel comfortable travelling seems a cruel irony. As the Yiddish proverb goes, “We plan, God laughs.”

All I can say is: I wish everyone travelling mercies, good health, and a very, merry Christmas. Goodness knows, we deserve one.

Through My Lens: A Snowy View Over English Bay

If this keeps up, Vancouver will have to give up its nickname as the Tropics of Canada. I took this photo this afternoon.

Through My Lens: November Light

There’s something special about the light on the bay this time of year. I took this photo a few days ago. A friend said it was like pewter and old gold.

Snow Golf

All right. Let’s get the obligatory first-snow-of-the-season post out of the way. Here’s a photo I took a week ago today.

Yup, we went from summer to winter in less than three weeks. First the rains came in a series of atmospheric rivers, and then the first bad windstorm of the season. Trees stressed from the drought and still in full foliage came down by the thousands, pulling power lines down with them. At the height of the storm, more than 300,000 people were without power.

After all that, an Arctic outflow blanketed much of the province for the better part of a week. Vancouver’s dusting of snow on Monday night a week ago was its earliest snowfall in decades.

Just so I’m not writing about our weather every single week, I put off posting this photo until today. That’s because I knew I wanted to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic floods and mudslides that ravaged British Columbia. There’s been a lot of local media coverage about it the past few days because, well, it was pretty traumatic. A lot of people are still in recovery mode.

Even the barge that came up on the rocks at the end of my street a year ago today is still there. In the end, it had to be dismantled and taken away bit by bit. A salvage team has been working on that momentous task since last summer. Theyre almost done and I cannot lie: Ill be glad when its gone.

Incidentally, although the Pitch & Putt at Stanley Park is open year-round (subject to conditions), it was closed the day I took the above photo. But obviously that did not stop the die-hard golfers you see in my photo.

Then again, Vancouverites are known to never let the weather stop them from doing what they love best.

Queen of Canada

To you, she was your Queen.
To us, she was the Queen.
— Emmanuel Macron, President of France

I don’t remember how old I was when I became aware that I shared my name with Queen Elizabeth. But you can bet I thought it was pretty special.

I mean, what little girl wouldn’t? (Even though, in truth, I am named after my grandmother.)

My first trip overseas — the one where I caught the travel bug — included a stop in London. It was 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. We were there in mid-August, long after the festivities were over, but while the Mall was still adorned in Union Jacks and silver beads. I remember those beads so vividly.

The Mall in 1977

My mother bought a tiny Silver Jubilee souvenir plate on that trip to London; somehow it ended up on my kitchen counter where it now holds my bottle of extra virgin olive oil (to keep the oil dribbles from ending up on my counter — as you do with jubilee souvenir plates).

On that trip, my first of many visits to London, I wallowed in all the pomp and ceremony that makes London unique among European capitals. I was dazzled by the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, and I was mesmerized by the palace guards.

Last June, when I turned on my TV and watched the Trooping of the Colour and then, two days later, the Platinum Party at the Palace, I thought to myself, “Wow, I so prefer the under-stated British patriotism to the over-the-top American version.” I wondered what it must’ve been like for the Queen, grieving for her father while undertaking a massive job much earlier than she anticipated, and in a man’s world to boot. She was a young, working mother before society ever came up with the term (as if mothers are ever “non-working”). I marvelled at how the Queen found a way to make her mark so early on, surrounded by all those old men in suits.

I thought about how long seventy years is. Much has been made of the fact that Winston Churchill was her first prime minister, but I was shocked to realize she acceded the throne while Stalin was still ruling Russia. Twelve of Canada’s 23 prime ministers have served under Queen Elizabeth. She’s been our Queen for almost half of our existence as a country.

World War II and the Covid-19 pandemic bookend the second Elizabethan Age, which seems fitting. She made her first radio address in October 1940 to the children of the Commonwealth, many of them evacuees, while still a child herself. One of her last TV addresses (not counting her annual Christmas message) was in April 2020, where she referenced that 1940 radio broadcast and talked about the pain of separation from loved ones.

We’re told the Queen loved Canada. She visited us the first time as a princess, and then 22 times as Queen. I remember standing in front of Edmonton’s Government House for a chance to see her during one of those visits.

It was 1978, and the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward were in town for the Commonwealth Games. My dad rather spontaneously decided one evening that our entire family should go watch in person as the Royal Family arrived for a formal dinner. After a very long wait, we were ecstatic to see how close we were when the cars pulled up. Just feet away from us! Except, much to our disappointment, all we could see were the backs of the Royal Family as they turned away from us to be greeted by the premier and other dignitaries.

Those of us on the far side of the cars began hooting and hollering. We were noticed — the Queen and her family turned towards us and gave us that royal wave. And then — whoosh, they were swept indoors.

The crowd felt it was much too quick of a glimpse and we all began hollering again. “We want the Queen,” we yelled. And not long afterwards, the Royal Family obliged us and came out onto the balcony of Government House to give us another royal wave.

It wasn’t Buckingham Palace, but it was a balcony.

Like the rest of the country, I woke up on September 8 to news that the Queen was under medical supervision. I tried to work, but kept the live feeds of both BBC and CBC open on my computer, watching, listening, waiting. I was quite surprised at my reaction when the news came. Tears, yes, and shock. And I realized that I somewhat bizarrely thought she would live forever. How silly of me.

What hasn’t surprised me since is the outpouring of love and affection for her from all over the world. That people would queue overnight to see her lying-in-state? You only have to watch it online for a few minutes to realize what a moment that would be, walking past the Queen’s coffin in person.

Half-Mast Canadian Flags in English Bay

What has surprised me is all the ritual surrounding King Charles III’s accession. Who knew there would be so much ceremony, both in the United Kingdom and in the Commonwealth? It’s made me wonder about my monarchist tendencies for the first time ever. Yes, the rituals of accession go back thousands of years. Yes, tradition is important. But when you live in a time where change happens at lightning speed, it’s become commonplace, you might say traditional, not to hold on to traditions.

The notion of a hereditary head of state does seem pretty strange and out of date in today’s world. But when I look at countries like Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, … Canada … and then compare those democracies to republics with elected heads of state (especially the one to the south of us), well, I’m still all in when it comes to a constitutional monarchy. From where I’m standing, it looks like a stable and reasonably effective way to run a country.

I’ve always known that the Queen is Canada’s Queen, and Head of the Commonwealth, but it wasn’t until these past ten days that I clued in to what the realm is. That’s us — the fifteen countries that had Queen Elizabeth II as our Sovereign, and now have King Charles III.

I know there’s going to be a lot of rumbling about whether it’s time for Canada to become a republic, like Barbados did just over a year ago. Except for one little problem. When we patriated our constitution back in 1982 — that’s when the Queen made a special trip to Ottawa to sign what I always thought of as the divorce papers — we gave ourselves an impossible amending formula. Instead of having to go to the Parliament of the United Kingdom to amend our Constitution, we now have to sort it out ourselves. Dumping the monarch would require an amendment, and the chances of us ever coming to an agreement about how to do that are pretty much nil.

Canada is the largest realm, after the United Kingdom, and our delegation to the Queen’s funeral was also one of the largest. This morning’s procession from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch was led by four Royal Canadian Mounted Police on horses gifted by the RCMP to the Queen. In addition to the current and former prime ministers and the current and former governors general, the three main Indigenous leaders went along: the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and the President of the Métis National Council. Their attendance goes far beyond symbolism. It’s a recognition that there is still much work to be done in terms of reconciling Canada’s colonial past. There are calls for King Charles to make a public apology to the Indigenous peoples who live in Canada. I expect it will come, eventually, because all institutions, even the British Monarchy, must adapt and change to stay relevant.

Near the end of our 1977 trip to London, I remember my dad asking each of us kids what we thought of when we heard the word “London.” I said Parliament Square.

My family was surprised. They expected me to say the Crown Jewels or the Changing of the Guard, knowing how enamoured I was with both, but Dad understood my thinking. At Parliament Square, you can see both the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey — the monarchy, the parliament, and the church — in one sweeping glance.

There’s a portrait of the Queen that was taken after her coronation. You know the one: she’s wearing the Imperial State Crown, and holding the orb and sceptre, all of which adorned her coffin this past week. Behind her is a backdrop showing the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. That’s the chapel where fifteen kings and queens, including Elizabeth I, are buried. It takes your breath away when you stand inside it.

If Parliament Square is what I think of when I think of London, then that portrait of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II is what I think of when I think of the Queen.

Our Queen.

Juneuary

I know, I know. I keep saying I won’t write about the weather. And then I do.

It’s just that … well, when you live in Vancouver and the weather is great, there is nowhere you’d rather be. But when you live in Vancouver and the weather is awful, there is literally anywhere you’d rather be.

Such has been the case these past few months as we endured the coldest spring in 77 years. That’s quite the record.

This month, we’ve been enjoying a typical “Juneuary.” Every June, a low pressure system moves in over the Lower Mainland and hangs around for most of the month. Cold days, colder nights, and rain, lots of rain. It’s been the wettest June in 30 years, and on June 9, the 26.3 mm of rain that fell made it the wettest June 9 since 1937.

We skipped Juneuary in 2019 and 2020, but it was back with a vengeance in 2021, although most of us quickly forgot about it as soon as the heat dome rolled in. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to endure one of those this summer.

The good news about the cool temperatures is that the unusually large snow pack is melting slowly. We don’t want — or need — any more flooding in this province.

And apparently summer temperatures are just around the corner. I cannot wait.

Here’s a photo of the barge that came ashore last November on the beach at the end of my street. It’s still here, seven months later — no longer an oddity, just an eyesore.

Not to mention a constant reminder that nothing is as it should be with our climate.

Through My Lens: English Bay Sunset

Here’s what I absolutely love about my neighbourhood: when you walk out the door, you have no idea what awaits you.

This was our sunset two days ago — a welcome sight after many cloudy, rainy days.

Through My Lens: Clouds on the Horizon

Welp. I have to say: not too impressed so far with Season 3 of 2020.

Canada has had a rough few weeks. I’m not going to offer a rant about how we got here or a sermon about where we need to go. Rather, I’ll just say that my way of coping has been to focus on my own self-care, which I think I’ve gotten pretty good at over the past two years. That means connecting with friends, cooking my favourite comfort foods, and taking some long walks to look for signs of spring.

Above is the view I had a few evenings ago, which, given the current state of affairs in our nation’s capital, struck me as rather allegorical.

I just hope the clouds are not an omen.

Through My Lens: Palm Trees on a Snowy Beach

When feeling particularly smug (which, truth be told, can be far too often), residents of BC’s Lower Mainland like to call where we live “The Tropics of Canada.”

Which is pretty funny.

I took this photo after last month’s snowstorm.