Journey back in time

October 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

After the American War of Independence ended in 1783, many who remained loyal to the British crown fled to Canada, settling in Nova Scotia, Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and what is now southeastern Ontario. The northern shores of the St. Lawrence River, within sight of the United States, in particular attracted many United Empire Loyalist settlers.

Throughout the early 19th century, the population of what then became Upper Canada expanded rapidly with settlement from the British Isles. (Present-day Quebec was then known as Lower Canada). Many settled in small villages, some prospering with the rural technology of the time — water-powered mills, and other such machinery. Attractive communities were built with logs, sawed planks, stone and brick. And many of these buildings survived well into the 20th century.

Fast forward to the 1950s, when the St. Lawrence Seaway was constructed and opened, allowing larger ships to pass from the ocean to the Great Lakes. One of the challenges in the Seaway’s construction was at set of rapids at Long Sault. To allow ships to pass, an artificial lake called Lake St. Lawrence was created, and the water levels were raised in 1958, submerging six villages and three hamlets. These became known as the Lost Villages. A number of historic buildings from these villages were relocated to a site near Morrisburg, which opened in 1961 as Upper Canada Village.

Since then, other historic buildings have been relocated there, so that now there are more than 40 buildings from the area. And for nearly 50 years, Upper Canada Village has operated as a heritage park, depicting life in a small Upper Canada community of 1866, the year before Canadian Confederation. The grist mill operates producing flour, that the baker still makes into bread using traditional methods. The sawmill produces lumber. A cheese factory produces cheddar cheese, making only a few minor concessions to satisfy modern food inspectors, such as using a steel-lined vat and tools. And a blacksmith still shoes horses and crafts implements using mid-19th century technology.

I first visited Upper Canada Village as a teenager in 1969, and have been back once or twice over the years. I returned recently on a gorgeous sunny September day, armed with a camera and several lenses. The enactors were pretty good about allowing themselves to be photographed as they carried out traditional crafts from nearly 150 years ago.

Reflection through the rails, Upper Canada Village

Reflection through the rails, Upper Canada Village

Spinning yarn, Upper Canada Village

Spinning yarn, Upper Canada Village

Making cheddar cheese, Upper Canada Village

Making cheddar cheese, Upper Canada Village

Stroll by the river, Upper Canada Village

Stroll by the river, Upper Canada Village

In the general store, Upper Canada Village

In the general store, Upper Canada Village

Blacksmith's shop, Upper Canada Village (4)

Blacksmith’s shop, Upper Canada Village

See other photos of Upper Canada Village as a slideshow in my Flickr set.

Caribana – the Caribbean in Toronto

September 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

At the end of July, I drove down to Toronto to take in the finale of Caribana, a huge Caribbean festival that culminates in a parade. Over a million people attend, and thousands who participate in the parade get decked out in glittering carnivalesque costumes.

The parade, July 31, was on a hot, sunny day. The sun was brilliant, resulting in dark shadows. As a result, I photographed it using a fill flash a lot, and also took in much of the action from behind barriers using a 70-300mm long zoom lens to zero in on the action from the distance. Before the parade, I took some pictures of costumed participants arriving. Normally, I just asked them to pose, and with the exception of just one couple, all were willing to do so. I know many were proud of how they looked, and when people are having fun, they’re much more willing to let you take their picture.

Here are a few shots I took before and during the parade:

Caribana Parade, Toronto

Caribana Parade, Toronto

Caribana Parade, Toronto

Caribana Parade, Toronto

Caribana Parade, Toronto

The loss of a colleague, and a great Canadian

August 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

On Thursday morning, I lost an amazing colleague and Canada lost a great Canadian. Mario Laguë was riding his motorcycle to work when he struck an SUV making a left turn into his path just a few blocks from my home in Ottawa.

Mario worked as Director of Communications to Canadian Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. His office was a short way down the hall from mine. I saw him almost every day, and often worked with him directly whenever my tasks involved communications. He was always friendly — the kind of guy who can be humble and down-to-earthly human in a political world where many others are too full of their own importance.

I don’t normally speak publicly about what goes on behind our office walls, but I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets to say that many of my co-workers at the Liberal Research Bureau were demoralized after the 2008 election defeat of leader Stéphane Dion. A new management team initially brought in by Mr. Ignatieff was smart and energetic, but lacked experience and made mistakes. Then, last fall, Peter Donolo was brought in as Chief of Staff, and he brought with him a management team of stars. One of the brightest of these was Mario.

Mario had a witty sense of humour. It came through in media reports. Invariably a reporter would quote an unnamed “Liberal source” who had some sharply clever response that mocked the bungling of the Harper Conservatives. To anyone who knew him, it was obviously Mario. At meetings, Mario could be decisive and quick to get to the point, but then he would let go a wry comment that would have us all in stitches.

I admired his approach to communications. All too often Conservatives twist and distort the facts, spinning small events and big lies. Liberals earnestly struggle through the weeds of issues, attempting to make logical, but obscure arguments that are lost on the public. Not Mario. He could instantly zero in on the essence of an issue, saying in simple terms why it matters to Canadians. He had an inner gut for public opinion. I never once heard him call for twisting or torquing an issue, but I often heard him urge sensible restraint when colleagues became a bit too enthusiastically partisan. Whenever he questioned my work, I knew after a little reflection that his instincts were right.

I remember when the tragic earthquake struck Haiti and Mario seemed emotionally shaken, quickly realizing how serious it was. In quiet tones, he told us it looked very, very bad, and above all we should not try to exploit this tragedy for partisan purposes. This was a time to be supportive of effective action, while being respectful of those on the government side who would be front and centre of Canada’s response to the tragedy.

I regret that I never got to know Mario as a close friend. From the moment we first chatted, I knew we shared many common interests. We were close in age — boomers in an office dominated by 20 and 30 somethings. We shared the cultural reference points of those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Both of us had a fascination for the world outside Canada — particularly Latin America, where he had served as Ambassador to Costa Rica and in other diplomatic roles in Mexico and Venezuela. I had hoped that one day we would chat about our common experiences abroad, but that’s a conversation that now will never happen.

Not too long ago Mario asked me if I would mind doing him a small favour not related to work. He wanted me to scan electronically some papers for him that he needed to insure a motorcycle. As I scanned the papers, I had a thought — not quite as strong as a premonition, but clear nonetheless — that riding a motorcycle in and around Ottawa was a risky activity, and I hoped he would be okay.

The last time I talked to Mario was a chance meeting in the washroom where he told me he had been out exploring the countryside and had discovered Perth, a town west of Ottawa that I also like very much. He said that while looking at photos on the Internet of local places to travel to, he’d been surprised to come across so many of my shots. I vaguely thought it would be fun if I had a motorcycle, to tag along on his explorations.

But then Thursday morning I got a call from a colleague who gave me the sad news shortly before it broke in the media. I was away in Quebec on a French immersion course and couldn’t share the grief with colleagues and friends who knew Mario.

Today I drove through that intersection at Scott and Parkdale near my home where Mario’s life was taken from him at the age of 52. There were eerie police markings still on the pavement showing where the SUV stopped and where Mario landed. I felt an anger at the attitude of so many SUV drivers who seem to feel that because their vehicles are bigger, they own the road. But most of all, I felt a profound sadness about the waste of a life of a man in his prime, an amazing man I would have liked to know better.

Firing a musket

July 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Firing a musket

Sunrise over the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa

July 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Sunrise over the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa

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