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Happy Birthday, NHL!

It’s Grey Cup Sunday in Canada, a day when some of us go a little wacky over that game played with a pigskin. I only mention it because this year’s game (held in Ottawa) was the 105th Grey Cup and I like to acknowledge significant anniversaries on this blog.

Oh, and I also mention it because it is a game always played in late November. Most often outside. And this year, in a blizzard.

No, seriously. They couldn’t keep the field clear. Players were sliding all over the place. Camera operators, too. And the half-time show? Shania Twain was brought out to centre field by dog sled. And then escorted to the stage by a Mountie.

Canadian enough for you? Hee.

But now I am going to change the channel and talk about the other most Canadian professional sport.

I’m talking about hockey. Of course.

Another hee. I’ve been waiting a long time for an excuse to post these photos. And today I have one: it’s the 100th birthday of the National Hockey League.

For my non-Canadian readers, just know that Canada is a hockey-mad country. And if you visit Canada during playoff season — you know, what the rest of the world calls spring — you will see for yourself just how hockey mad we are. Sixteen NHL teams play four rounds of best-of-seven series … it goes on forever.

If you still don’t believe me, how about this? A hockey rink has been built on Parliament Hill for the upcoming holiday season as part of the Canada 150 celebrations. (Except, um, no hockey sticks or pucks allowed, so maybe not so much hockey rink as ice rink, despite the boards surrounding it.)

All of this is to say that it would be most un-Canadian of me to let today go by without acknowledging the date in some way. A hundred years ago today, the owners of the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, and the Quebec Bulldogs got together and agreed to form a hockey association they named the National Hockey League. At that time, the best players earned $900 a season.

The league had a bit of a rough go at first. The Wanderers pulled out before the first season was over because their arena burned down and Quebec pulled out before the first season even started because they ran out of money. Enter a Toronto team that had no name (eventually known as the Toronto Maple Leafs).

The first games were played on December 19, 1917. Toronto lost to the Wanderers by a score of 10 to 9 and the Canadiens beat the Senators 7 to 4. Some of the rules then in place: no forward passing and no zones. It took less than a month for the first rule change: allowing goalies to drop to the ice when making a save. (Initially, they were instructed to remain upright. Yeah, good luck with that.)

The nameless Toronto team took home the Stanley Cup in 1918, beating the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in a best-of-five series, although Lord Stanley’s Cup didn’t become the official league trophy until the 1926–27 season.

Last summer, one of my German friends asked me about “ice hockey.” When I gave him a funny look, he corrected himself.

“You don’t call it ice hockey in Canada, do you?” he asked.

“Yeah, no,” I said. “There’s only one kind of hockey we care about in Canada. And it goes without saying which one we mean.”

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Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

I took this photo of an Anna’s Hummingbird a few weeks ago during our last snowstorm. I was housebound during that storm because I was hanging out in Solo. If you look closely, you can see that the water in the feeder is almost frozen solid. I’m sure that hummingbird was as confused as I was by the cold weather.

Why am I posting this photo today? Because this morning I spent nearly an hour watching big fat snowflakes fall from the sky.

C’mon. It’s almost March. More snow??

Vancouver has had twice as much snow this winter as Edmonton where it’s winter seven months of the year. (I can say that because I grew up in Edmonton. I know winter. Er … I used to know winter.)

Anna’s Hummingbirds do not migrate south from Vancouver for the winter, thanks to the proliferation of backyard feeders like this one. I still can’t get my head around the fact that hummingbirds are here year-round.

I just hope all that hovering they do kept those tiny birds warm this winter.

Snow Day in Vancouver

Wait, what?

Yup. Snow Day in Vancouver. Normally in February, I’m posting photos of crocuses. Or gloating about how spring is right around the corner.

Not this year. We’ve had one of the snowiest, coldest winters I can remember, and I’ve lived here off and on for a good chunk of my life. This winter we had a white Christmas for the first time in almost a decade, and for the first time ever in my memory, the snow stuck around for an entire month. It arrived in early December and it didn’t leave until after New Year’s when the temperature finally warmed up and the rain washed it all away.

I expected we would have a normal winter going forward. But no.

We got another record dump of the white stuff this past weekend. Because we don’t usually get snow, what most Canadians take for granted, like snow plows and snow tires, we do not have enough of. And without plowed roads or snow tires, you are not going to get very far. Ever been in an articulated bus that was sliding backwards down a hill? I have. It was not pleasant.

So today was a snow day for a lot of people in this town.

And there is more snow in the forecast.

English Bay Snowman

Through My Lens: Central Park in Winter

Central Park Ice Rink

The other cool thing about visiting New York City in the winter? All those wonderful outdoor ice rinks.

Like this one in Central Park.

Through My Lens: Empire State Building in Winter

Empire State Building in Winter

So here’s a thing. When you go to New York City in December, like I did the other weekend, you get all kinds of weather. Here’s a view of the Empire State Building from Bryant Park. Snow was softly falling, which is why the third-tallest building in New York has a ghostly look in the photo.

Stanley Park Windstorm

Ten years ago today, a massive windstorm devastated Stanley Park. Hurricane-force winds off English Bay levelled 41 hectares of forest, about 10,000 trees in all, some of which were more than 500 years old. It was the most violent windstorm to hit Stanley Park in 40 years.

Although it was overwhelming to see the devastation, the forest was long overdue for a regeneration. The wide open spaces changed the look of parts of the park and increased the diversity of both plant life and animals. Woodpeckers, for example, are now thriving. More than 15,000 trees and shrubs were planted by park staff and volunteers. I was walking near Prospect Point recently and it struck me how tall those young trees are already.

I was out of town on December 15, 2006, but I remember taking a walk through the park on Christmas Day — as much as it was possible to walk through the park since every trail was blocked by fallen trees — with my mouth open wide in shock. The seawall was also extensively damaged and remained closed for some 18 months until the repairs could be finished and the cliff tops above the seawall stabilized.

This photo is of a tree that came down near the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park. It lies near where it fell, trimmed of its foliage, and has been left as a memorial to that storm. It is now a popular photo stop for tourists, who I am sure have no idea why it is lying there.

Georgia Street Tree

Northern Shoveller

One bonus about summer being over is that it means there are only a few more weeks to go until the return of the winter birds. I haven’t seen any sign of them yet, but they’ll be here soon and are most welcome.

This is a Northern Shoveller, one of the dabbling ducks that like to hang out at Lost Lagoon. I myself haven’t seen them that often, but that might be because I first mistook them for the much more common Mallards. From a distance, their colouring looks quite similar. Upon closer inspection, the beaks are longer than a mallard’s and are a noticeably different colour.

Northern Shoveller

Skiing at Cypress

Cat Track 1

Yesterday was the last day of the ski season on Cypress Mountain ― and what a season it was! I can’t remember when I’ve seen as much snow on the mountain as I did this year. Total snow accumulation of close to ten metres and a base of almost four metres made for some spectacular skiing.

Collins Top

Not all years are alike on our local mountains (thank you, climate change), so I do not take a good ski season for granted. Cypress Mountain was the venue for the 2010 Olympics Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard events, but the conditions that year were close to disastrous. That snow had to be flown in by helicopter to make the mountain competition-worthy got a lot of media attention. And last year the snow conditions were just as bad, if not worse.

Upper Collins

If you are from Vancouver, you’ve probably been skiing since before you could walk, but for those of us who grew up on the flat prairie, hurling oneself down a mountain doesn’t come as naturally. I finally decided I should give skiing a try after I spent a week hiking in the Swiss Alps with an Australian who could not stop talking about how much he loved the sport. But upon my return to Canada, and after my first few feeble attempts at skiing down a mountain, I quickly realized I badly needed expert help and should take some lessons.

And then … I promptly moved to Toronto and spent a decade there, where, yes, skiing takes much more effort than when you live in a city surrounded by mountains. (No, Blue Mountain does not count. When a friend from Collingwood showed me where she learned to ski, I laughed. And laughed and laughed.)

Lower Collins

And so, after moving back west, with the urging of a co-worker who told me she was over the age of 40 when she learned to ski and assured me I could too, I found me some courage and signed up for the Adult Learn to Ski Program at Cypress. The program was a great bargain: five lessons, five full-day lift tickets, and five full-day rentals. Plus one night a week of night skiing for the entire season.

And here’s the thing I was thrilled to discovered: ski lessons are nothing like your grade school phys ed class. You remember those.

Howe Sound

Howe Sound as seen from Lion’s Express Chair

No, ski lessons at Cypress are much different. The instructors are careful, considerate, and skilled. (After all, it’s in the resort’s interest to make sure you have fun ― they want you to come back.) I do think it helped me that I was familiar with the sensation of sliding on slippery surfaces, thanks to all those lunch hours spent on my elementary school’s outdoor ice rink. When the instructor told me to do a “hockey stop,” I knew what he meant and could do it on my first attempt. But more than all that, learning how to ski was just so much fun.

Mount Baker

Mount Baker as seen from Black Mountain

The instructors begin by having you slide down a short incline in front of the ski lodge ― just a few metres to start. You move on to a longer incline, and before you know it, you’re on the bunny hill and learning how to turn.

After my first couple of seasons, I bought some second-hand skis and now, every year come December, I regularly check the ski report. The best are the blue bird days ― a brilliant day of sunshine after an overnight snow fall. Fresh powder is what you want. And then there’s spring skiing, which some years ― like this one ― can be awesome.

I know I’ll never be a great skier. No black diamond runs for me. But with 53 runs ― the longest is 4 kilometres ― and a vertical drop of more than 600 metres, there’s plenty on the Cypress Mountain to keep me challenged.

Vancouver can be a miserable place in the winter because of its rain. But all that rain in the city translates to snow on the North Shore mountains. So every winter, when I moan about how much it’s been raining, I only have to look up at the mountains and know that it’s going to be a great ski season.

Barring an early season Pineapple Express, of course.

Cat Track 2

Au Revoir, Paris

Five years ago today, I boarded the London-bound Eurostar at Gare du Nord in Paris. It was my last day after spending three months in the city.

Three months is a long time. Even so, I remember that last week as a frantic one because I was running around trying to do everything I wanted to do and see everything I wanted to see before it was time to leave.

One of the privileges of spending a winter in Paris is getting to experience scenes like this one. This particular street corner is opposite Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 20e arrondissement.

Paris Snow

Deer Lake Park in Winter

Deer Lake Park Winter 1

So remember when I told you how Deer Lake Park in Burnaby was an all-season park and I intended to go back and explore it some more? Yeah, I know. I forgot too.

Oops.

Deer Lake Park Winter 2

I’m hanging out in Solo again, which means I have no excuse to not get myself back to this park. And so, one afternoon last week when there was fresh snow on the ground, I went for another walk with the friend who introduced me to Deer Lake Park.

It was stunning. I’m rather partial to my own park (that would be the one they call Stanley), but whenever I get a bit uppity about the park in my backyard, something or someone reminds me of how many fabulous parks there are all over Greater Vancouver.

Have a look at what I saw that afternoon.