Canada 150: Prince Edward Island

We ARE rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds. — Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery

Everything I know about Prince Edward Island I learned from Anne of Green Gables, so it’s only natural that I start this post off with a quote from the book.

My time on Prince Edward Island (while on leg two of my cross-Canada trip) was short (way too short), but I remember that the Island was beautiful and green and red and so very, very small. (It is the smallest Canadian province in both population and area — five PEIs would fit inside Vancouver Island. So yeah … small.)

I really hope I get back there some day.

Another claim to fame (besides Anne) for Prince Edward Island: it hosted the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. Delegates from Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia came together to discuss forming a union of their three colonies. But the Canadians crashed the party and got them to consider making it a foursome (the colony of Canada being the fourth). The 1864 conference was followed by more meetings and, eventually, Confederation in 1867, although PEI ended up backing out and waited until 1873 to become a province of Canada. Even so, Charlottetown is called the Birthplace of Confederation.

This photo was taken (I think) somewhere on the Island’s north shore, which faces the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Prince Edward Island is famous for its red soil, which is caused by a high concentration of iron oxide.

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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.”

Maastricht

OK, trick question. Look at this photo and tell me where it was taken.

Nope, not France.

Not Belgium either.

It’s Holland!

This cup of coffee was my way of saying good-bye to the Netherlands (within an hour of drinking it, I was on my way to Belgium by train), although ironically it looks less like a Dutch cup of coffee than any I had all last summer. And that’s because I was in Maastricht.

When it came time to say good-bye to my German friends, I headed west, and decided to break my journey, so to speak, in Maastricht. I wanted to spend one last night in Holland. And I had just enough time for a long, exploratory walk in the late summer evening, and a whirlwind tour the next morning of three churches, two of which are still in use, and one which has been converted into the most beautiful bookstore I have ever seen.

Maastricht has a distinct look that sets it apart from the rest of the Netherlands. It is next door to Aachen, in that same tiny little corner of Europe where three countries come together. This part of Holland has been occupied by the Romans, the Spanish, the Prussians, the Austrians, and the French. The last time the French were here, a little general by the name of Napoleon was in control of the region.

I knew even before I arrived in Maastricht that 24 hours would not do the city justice, but I stopped in anyways. Next time, I will be sure to stay long enough for a proper visit.

Oh, and a bit of trivia that you might find interesting, given all the speculation about the future of the European Union: it was 25 years ago this year that the Maastricht Treaty was signed (in Maastricht, of course) by 12 European nations to indicate their intent to create an economic and monetary union.

Canada 150: Hopewell Rocks

I’m nearing the end of my Canada 150 series, but it’s only now that I’ve reached leg two of my cross-Canada road trip. (Remember, I’m the one who doesn’t think it’s cheating if you break a cross-Canada road trip down into manageable chunks. Leg one of my road trip was from Vancouver to Toronto; a few years later I did Toronto to Cape Breton (that would be leg two); and a year after that was leg three, when I drove from Edmonton to Inuvik.)

On the way from Toronto to Cape Breton, we stopped off at Hopewell Rocks. These sea stacks are on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy is known for its tidal ranges, which are the highest anywhere in the world — sometimes as much as 16 metres or the height of a four-storey building. Those powerful tides have eroded the soft sandstone along the shoreline of the bay and created these rock formations.

We didn’t stick around long enough to watch the tide to come in, but if we had, we would have seen how only the tops of these rocks are visible at high tide.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

I’m going to start this post off with a bunch of numbers.

Here’s one: 11.

Every year, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember.

Here’s another number: 3598.

That’s the number of Canadian soldiers who lost their lives at Vimy Ridge, a battle that was commemorated with 100th anniversary ceremonies last April. Another 7000 soldiers were wounded.

And here’s one more number: 1.

That’s the number of graves my nieces and I set out to look for last summer when we visited Canadian Cemetery No. 2 at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. It’s a big cemetery, but we found the grave in minutes.

The grave we were looking for was this one.

This Cape Breton soldier was the great-grand-uncle of the wife of a friend of a friend of mine. How many degrees of separation between that soldier and me? I told my nieces it was five and they were all over the idea that they were the sixth degree. More numbers. Whatever the degree of separation, knowing that I knew someone who knew someone who was related to a Canadian soldier buried at Vimy Ridge gave all of us a personal connection to those horrific events of 100 years ago.

I have more numbers. The Vimy Monument stands at the highest point of Vimy Ridge — the piece of land that was fought over by 200,000 soldiers — and the 100 hectares surrounding the ridge were given to Canada by a grateful France in 1922 so that the monument could be built.

On the Vimy Monument are carved the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died in France, but have no known grave.

Because many of the soldiers’ bodies at Vimy were never recovered (it was and still is too dangerous to walk over No Man’s Land because of the unexploded ordnance), the entire memorial site is considered a cemetery.

Here’s a surprising number: 25. That’s the number of metres between the Canadian and German lines — about the width of a NHL hockey rink. You can see for yourself how short that distance is when you stand in one of the reconstructed trenches.

The guides who take you into the underground tunnels at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial are all Canadian university students. Those tunnels served two purposes: they protected the Canadian soldiers as they moved ever closer to the German lines, and they allowed the soldiers to plant the underground mines that were set off just before the battle began.

Not all of the mines exploded, which is why there is so much unexploded ordnance. The grass is kept short by grazing sheep that are too lightweight to set off the mines.

It is believed there are 10 miles of tunnels at Vimy, dug by miners who had the necessary experience in tunneling underground. Although you can’t go into the tunnels without a guide, you are free to wander about the rest of the memorial site as you will.

The Vimy Monument itself is striking. Designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward, it took 11 years to build and was dedicated in 1936. Allward said the image of the twin pylons, which represent Canada and France, came to him in a dream.

On the monument itself are 20 allegorical sculptures so poignant and moving that I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

And here is one final number: 2.

That’s the number of hours it takes to get from Paris to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial by car (about the same by train and taxi).

As to the value of a visit to Vimy Ridge, I have no more numbers.

That is immeasurable.

The Gardens of Schloss Schwetzingen

Remember Karl Theodor? The fellow I kept bumping into in Heidelberg? Turns out he had a summer home. (And was quarrying stone from Heidelberg Castle to build it. Tsk, tsk.)

That home would be this one, Schloss Schwetzingen or Schwetzingen Castle.

Karl Theodor spent a great deal of effort and expense on designing some rather splendid gardens behind the castle.

Which is what my friends and I came to see. There are several of them, all exquisitely landscaped.

There were also lots of ponds, along with the requisite ducks and geese.

More than 100 sculptures.

A few “follies,” as they call them in formal gardens, such as this mosque.

And a temple to Apollo.

There were so many gardens, in fact, that we didn’t even get to them all.

Oh, and guess what? Just outside the castle is Karl Theodor himself. I think this likeness has something to do with the fact that he fathered seven illegitimate children by three different women.

Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

Heidelberg

After our lunch stop in Aachen, my German friends and I continued our journey to the south of Germany.

Here’s a question: What happens when you put a Canadian in the passenger seat of a German-made car driven by a car-mad German down the German Autobahn?

And here’s the answer: She giggles hysterically when it hits her how impossibly fast 214 km/h is after sneaking a glance at the speedometer.

Happily, the hysteria lasted only for a moment. And even at those speeds, it still took us much longer than I expected to reach our destination just outside of Heidelberg. (Remember, I’m the Canadian who thinks all European countries are tiny.)

Which meant we arrived after dark. But that made the end of the journey the most magical part of the day. After turning off the Autobahn, we drove through the countryside on what in Canada we call secondary roads. Suddenly, we were driving through the centre of Heidelberg. I’d been to Heidelberg before and knew, even in the darkness, roughly where we were. I looked up.

Yup, there it was. High above us, illuminated with floodlights, was the Heidelberg Schloss, or Heidelberg Castle.

It was quite the view on my first night in Germany.

Heidelberg straddles the Neckar River. From the hillsides on either side of the river valley, you have a pretty awesome view of the city. This is the view of the Old Town from the Philosophenweg, or Philosopher’s Walk. That’s the Castle behind the Old Town, up the hill a ways.

Here is the view of the Old Town from the Castle.

And here’s a better look at the Castle from the Castle Terrace.

The Castle is built out of Neckar Valley sandstone. The first structure on the site went up around 1300, and the prince-electors began to use it as a palace about a hundred years later. They added more buildings, all facing an inner courtyard and all representing different time periods and different styles of architecture from Renaissance to Rococo.

This wall is all that remains of the Renaissance Palace.

The castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), and then completely destroyed by lightning in 1764, after which it lay in ruins for many years. People began hauling away its stone to build their houses, a custom that was stopped in 1800 by a Frenchman named Count Charles de Graimberg, who began restoring and preserving the castle.

Here’s a closer look at the bridge that crosses the Neckar.

It’s known simply as the Alte Brücke or Old Bridge, but its official name is Karl-Theodor Brücke after the fellow who arranged to have it built (this version, that is, which went up in 1788). Karl Theodor was a prince-elector. (Fun fact: The Holy Roman Emperor was not a hereditary title, but an elected one, and he was elected to that office by the prince-electors. The things I learn doing research for this blog.)

It seemed like every time I turned around in Heidelberg, I bumped into Karl Theodor. Not literally, of course, but figuratively as his likeness is everywhere. Here he is on the bridge he had built.

This is the view of the Bridge Gate from the bridge. The gate dates back to the Middle Ages, making it much older than the bridge itself, except for its Baroque spires, which were added in 1788.

The Old Town of Heidelberg is a lovely place to wander through. Its buildings are mostly in the Baroque style.

This house was built in 1592 in the Late Renaissance style, and is now a hotel.

Heidelberg is very much a college town. Heidelberg University is Germany’s oldest (founded in 1386) and most prestigious. A quarter of the city’s population are students. A fun place to visit is the Studentenkarzer or Student Prison, which was in use until 1914. Students were detained for unseemly conduct like public drunkenness (or what we call a typical Saturday night on campus), but were allowed out to go to class. While locked up, they took out their pens. Here’s some of their graffiti.

Heidelberg is one of Germany’s most visited cities and I’m not surprised. This was my third visit and I keep going back as it’s quite lovely.

On the flip side, Germany is the top source of tourists to BC from continental Europe by quite a margin. This too does not surprise me — I keep bumping into them in our parks. I think they like our mountains.

But what surprised me as my friends and I flew down the Autobahn is how much forest cover there is in the country. The Autobahn is bordered on either side by woodland. Heidelberg is surrounded by timbered hilltops. My friend’s house backs onto a forest.

And here’s another fun fact I learned while doing research for this post: the Brothers Grimm lived not far from Heidelberg.

Romantic castles and enchanted forests indeed.

Aachen

It had to happen. Eventually. Inevitably.

The day finally came when it was time for me to leave Amsterdam.

Happily, I had two friends to distract me. They came from Germany for a quick visit and that meant my last day in Amsterdam was more party-like than funereal.

And then, they drove me to their home in southern Germany. But to break up what turned out to be a long day of driving (why is it we Canadians always underestimate how large European countries are?), we stopped off in Aachen to have lunch with a mutual friend.

Aachen (pronounced AH-ken, with a bit of throat clearing on the “ch”) is in a tiny little corner of Europe where three countries come together: Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Our time there was short, but long enough for a lightning quick walking tour of the old town.

In that lightning quick walking tour, I learned that Charlemagne was rather fond of Aachen, and made the city the capital of his Holy Roman Empire. I also learned that Charlemagne built a chapel, which became part of his palace. The palace no longer exists, but the chapel is now part of the Aachen Cathedral. It’s a pretty spectacular church — so spectacular that I’m going to save those photos for a post all their own.

This photo, though. I’m posting this photo because the architecture caught my eye. Only a few miles from the Dutch–German border, but I know I’m not in Holland anymore.

The Wittenberg Door

So I learned something the last time I was in Berlin. My dad and I were trying to take the train to Wittenberg, but almost ended up in Wittenburg.

Who knew one vowel could make such a difference? (And yes, this is why God made editors.) Wittenberg with an “e” is about 100 km southwest of Berlin. Wittenburg with a “u” is about 200 km northwest of Berlin.

In other words, we were headed in pretty much the opposite direction of where we wanted to be going.

After a quick chat with the train conductor, my dad and I disembarked at the next station, took a train to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and waited there for yet another train that would take us south. We eventually did reach Wittenberg (with an “e”).

Why Wittenberg? Because we wanted to see this door.

That would be the door to the Schlosskirche or Castle Church to which Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses 500 years ago today, on October 31, 1517. You can see the tower of the Schlosskirche in the photo below.

Luther’s theses went viral, you could say, and caused a bit of an uproar in the Christian church. Wars ensued — lots of wars — and, well, a lot of general mayhem. The world has never been the same since.

Some might say a little reformation, now and then, is a healthy thing, but I doubt that Luther had any idea of what he was starting when he picked up that hammer.

Canada 150: Quebec City

At the start of my Canada 150 series, way back when, I said that a cross-Canada train trip should be on the Travel Bucket List of every Canadian. I myself haven’t quite completed that, but I came pretty close when I took the train from Vancouver to Quebec City.

It took me four days to cross five provinces. I was a student, so I had more time than money and back in those days taking the train was cheaper than flying. But still, it was the cheap seats for me, which meant I did not have a sleeping berth at night. When I finally disembarked, the conductor joked that I was starting to look like part of the furniture.

But travelling slowly across three-quarters of the country was so worth it. It gives you a sense of the scale of our country, and an appreciation for the regional differences.

Another way to appreciate regional differences is to spend a good chunk of time in other parts of the country. I travelled to Quebec City that summer to study French. The French didn’t much stick, but my perception of Quebec was changed forever.

It was the 1980s, the height of the Quebec sovereignty movement and the middle of a decade of constitutional conferences and accords that were the aftermath of the federal government repatriating Canada’s Constitution without Quebec. Yes, that’s a mouthful and I won’t get into explaining it here because if you’re old enough, you lived through it, and if you’re too young to remember, there are books you can read. But I mention it to explain the context for my summer.

My goal that summer, besides learning French, was to get to know the province of Quebec, so to speak. As a history major, I knew all about Canada’s two solitudes, but history doesn’t really, truly come alive until you walk its streets. And here’s what I learned: the difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada isn’t just its language, but also its culture and its history.

Language is obvious, of course. But it’s because of that language difference that Quebec has its own music scene, its own TV and film stars, and its own literature. I read a lot, but I can’t remember the last time I picked up a novel by a Québécois author. I think we English-speaking Canadians could do a lot better in appreciating and acknowledging Quebec culture.

And then there’s the history. What I most remember about that summer is realizing exactly what je me souviens means to Quebeckers. Its literal translation is “I remember” and it is the province’s motto. It’s said to refer to how Quebeckers will always remember their culture, their traditions, and their history. But when I saw one of those sound and light shows for tourists of a model-sized re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the penny dropped for me. Je me souviens means “I remember 1759.”

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place on September 13, 1759. The British soldiers, led by General James Wolfe, climbed up the cliffs from the Saint Lawrence River to the Plains of Abraham at Quebec City, taking the French troops, led by the Marquis de Montcalm, completely by surprise. It was all over within an hour. The French loss marked the turning point of the Seven Years’ War. France gave up control of its colony in New France, but was allowed to keep two small islands off the coast of Newfoundland (Saint Pierre and Miquelon) and its holdings in the West Indies (the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique).

Keep in mind that New France at that time consisted of present-day Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and what is now the American Mid-West from the Great Lakes south to Louisiana. It was a far larger land mass than Britain’s Thirteen Colonies. Some historians like to draw a straight line between France losing New France and the American Revolution a few years later.

I’m getting lost in the history here, I know. But the point I want to make is this: if Montcalm had not lost the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, if France had not ceded its holdings in New France to the British, if the American Revolution had not been fought, if the Loyalists had not moved north into Canada, there is a pretty good chance that Canada would be a French-speaking nation. So when someone in Quebec says “je me souviens,” they are remembering all that.

I put all these thoughts into a short essay I read aloud to my French class on our last day of classes that summer. We met on the Plains of Abraham, of all places, for a class picnic and after I finished reading my essay, my teacher said to me, “Tu pense comme une Québécoise.”

You think like a Quebecker.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that my summer in Quebec City gave me a better understanding of how Quebeckers see their place in Canada.

I don’t have a photo of the Plains of Abraham, but here’s one of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a small church in the Lower Town of Quebec City. It is less than two kilometres from the Plains of Abraham and was almost completely destroyed by the British bombardment that preceded the battle in 1759.