Showing posts with label CANADA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CANADA. Show all posts

Lake Louise Alberta Canada - How To Deal With Angry Bears

American GI's handing out gum to English boys during WWII

It was as a little boy in my hometown of London, England, in World War II that I first came to admire Americans. We would yell "got any gum, chum" at the US soldiers. They would then shower us with candy, which was quite something in those days of strict food rationing. Of course, at that time, I had no idea that I would myself eventually become an American. Long before my naturalization however, there was an incident that renewed my respect for Americans. We were staying in one of a group of log cabins high in the Canadian Rockies.

Log cabin

There were bears in the area. They showed little interest in tourists like us. They were more interested in finding food in our garbage cans. However, they could kill, if they were bothered. What impressed me most was their speed over the ground. For such bulky animals, they can certainly move fast.  They easily outrun any human. If one wants to escape from an angry bear, one cannot do it by running away.  I was aware of all these facts at the time, but had not quite worked out what to do if confronted by an angry bear. Therefore I was terrified, when I saw a bear looking in on me through the window of our log cabin.

The bear was not angry.  It was only looking for some scraps of food.  I guess that I was of no interest to it in that respect, because it soon moved off.  The next day I mentioned this incident to the American tourists staying in the next cabin. I asked them what I should have done, if the bear had jumped my through my window or beaten down my door. Should I have curled up in a ball and hoped that it would go away? Actually, I couldn't even have done much, since I was paralyzed by fear.
Bear looking through cabin window

"It looked through our window as well", the Americans told me, "so we just reached for our camera and shot a great picture". What a fearlessly American reaction! That incident occurred in August 1975, when I was visiting Alberta, Canada. It was a wonderful trip. I flew into the city of Calgary and rented a car. I first drove west up into the Rockies and thru the famous mountain resorts of Banff and Jasper. Then I traveled north to Alberta's capital city of Edmonton, and finally south down the interstate and back to Calgary to complete a long and memorable journey.

Fairmont Chateau Hotel on Lake Louise
Much of the mountainous resort area is designated as national park and remains completely unspoiled. The most spectacular sight was Lake Louise. It takes one's breath away.

The lake is located at the foot of the Victoria Glacier, which looms over it and is snow capped year round. The water in the lake is a milky blue, unlike any water I have ever seen elsewhere. Now the color of water is important. I doubt that the Caribbean would be nearly so popular, if the sea there was not that lovely turquoise color. The color of Lake Louise is likewise what makes it so popular.

Princess Louise
Incidentally, who was Louise? She was the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria after whom the big glacier nearby was named. The lake was originally called something else by guy who discovered it in 1882, but the government quickly renamed it in honor of the queen's daughter.

The lake is at 5039 feet above sea level and the village that sits on its shore is the highest permanent settlement in Canada. That village is dominated by Chateau Lake Louise, a large and very grand hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company at the end of the 19th century. Their aim was to attract wealthy Easterners to travel across Canada by rail in order to stay at the hotel.

What I have omitted entirely is the fact that Lake Louise is one of Canada's finest ski resorts. That is because I was there during a pleasantly warm August with a lack of snow on the ground, which makes skiing a bit tricky! However, one can still take advantage of the many chair lifts to reach a higher altitude. One can then avoid both a tiring climb and an angry bear.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 5, 2008.

Niagara Falls - A Pioneering Old Lady

Niagara Falls
While visiting the lovely Canadian city of Toronto in 1987, Pat and I took time out to see the Niagara Falls, 75 miles to the south east. These falls are located on the Niagara River, which is part of the international border between the United States and Canada. A little distance upstream, the river forks to create two Niagara Falls. The smaller one is the Bridal Veil Falls on the American side.  The much larger one is the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. The land in the middle is Goat Island, downstream of which the two branches of the river re-unite. The Canadian falls are far more impressive. At that time, I had yet to become a US citizen, so I teased my dear American wife by constantly pointing out to her the superiority of the Canadian falls. When my juvenile behavior failed to irritate her, I told her that it was as well that we had arrived in daytime because the falls were switched off at night. Then I falsely claimed to everyone that she had believed me.

American side of the falls switched off for repairs
In fact, in 1969, the American falls were "switched off" for five months for repairs. The US Army Corps of Engineers built a temporary dam sending all the water over the Canadian side, so that they could get at the river bed below the American falls.

What is spectacular about these waterfalls is not their height. There are plenty of higher waterfalls elsewhere in the world. It is the sheer width that makes the falls so powerful. That width allows up to six million cubic feet of water per minute to tumble over the falls. Platforms have been built on the Canadian side of the river, which let us get very close to falling water. We also had a great view of the falls from the top of the nearby Skylon Tower, which is so high that - in the other direction - one can just make out the skyscrapers of Toronto in the distance 75 miles away.

Skylon Tower
On both sides of the falls, there are little boats which take paying passengers dangerously near to the point where the falling water hits the river below. The helmsmen must know their job, because there has never been a tragic accident with a vessel going too close and capsizing.  And tragic it would be, if a boatload of tourists was tipped into the waters just below the falls. Those waters are treacherous as the following story shows. In my home country of England, enormous respect is given to those who have swum the Channel between England and France. That respect is well deserved because it means that they have conquered over 22 miles of cold sea, with all its powerful tides and currents.

Captain Matthew Webb
The first man ever to swim the Channel was an Englishman named Captain Matthew Webb in 1875. Captain Webb later visited Niagara and was drowned swimming in the river below the falls.

Maid of the Mist
That's how treacherous those waters are. Therefore Pat and I did not risk viewing the falls from one of those little boats, the most famous of which is called The Maid of the Mist, even though looking directly upwards at the falling water must be an awesome sight. The crashing waters create so much spray that it is indeed just like mist. We did however walk along the pathway on Goat Island right behind the cascading water, and that gave us another exciting view of the Niagara Falls.

As one comes so close to such a mighty force of nature and is reminded of the insignificance of man, one has to contemplate the mindset of those who would play games with it. What makes someone want to walk above the falls on a tightrope or to go over the edge in a barrel?  The one word answer to that question seems to be "money".

Annie Edson Taylor
In the mid-19th century, tightrope walkers such as Blondin and Fanini drew huge crowds with their antics on the high wire above the falls without a safety net. Thankfully, neither of them fell off. 

The first recorded case of someone going over the falls in a barrel occurred in 1901, when Annie Edson Taylor tried it. Annie certainly did it for the money.  She was 63 at the time and had been wiped out financially.  Once a school teacher, she became a dancing instructor, but ran out of students as she became older. Needing to provide for her old age, she decided to go over the falls in a barrel. She had a wood and iron barrel specially made for her. She put a mattress inside for protection. She had a cat called Iagara, whom she put alone into the barrel before giving the barrel a test run over the falls.  Iagara survived, although there is no record of Iagara's opinion of these events. Certainly Iagara did not accompany its mistress, when she tried it herself a few days later. Annie stepped into the barrel holding her lucky heart-shaped pillow. Friends screwed down the lid, even though they were all terrified of being indicted for assisting her suicide. Then they pumped compressed air into the barrel with a bicycle pump and stuck a cork into the hole used for this.  Then they dropped the barrel into the Niagara River just upstream of the falls.  The barrel went over the Canadian falls, after which Annie was discovered to be alive with only minor injuries. Her plans to make a fortune on subsequent speaking tours were hampered by the fact that her manager ran off with the barrel. However, Iagara stuck around and is to be seen posing with Annie in souvenir photographs. Annie never made much money from all this and died 20 years later at the age of 83. Today the internet is awash with money making schemes, but this is certainly not one of them. Indeed, trying this in 2009 will attract a very heavy fine and perhaps jail time. Despite this, over a dozen people have tried it since Annie.  Some died. Some survived. Yet Annie was the first.              

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on April 1, 2009.

Ottawa Canada - A Royal Capital

Prince William and Princess Kate
We drove into Ottawa, capital city of Canada, in the middle of June 2011. At the time, the city was preparing itself for the visit at the end of the month of William and Kate, who are one day likely to become King and Queen of this vast nation.  On July 1st, which is Canada Day, they will celebrate with Canadians the birth of the nation.  Ottawa will then host a great fireworks display attended by the newly married young couple.  To become King and Queen of Canada eventually, William and Kate will need to avoid divorce and William will need to survive his grandmother and father.  For their part, Canadians will need to retain their love of monarchy, which is also probable because Canadians love to distinguish themselves from their neighbors to the south.  When those neighbors regard their present Head of State in this age of Obama, they must surely reflect on what might have been.  Unlike the royal couple, there were no carriages or escorts of gorgeously red coated Mounties for us. Yet we can still tell you about Ottawa.  Why did such a city, small in relation to great Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal through which we also passed, become the capital of the nation?  The credit or blame for that attaches to William’s great-great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who was asked in 1857 to select a new capital for Canada.  The original capital was the city of Kingston, which lies about 100 miles to the south of Ottawa and sits on the shore of Lake Ontario.  Unfortunately, Kingston also sits on the US-Canadian border and was therefore deemed to be indefensible in the event of another war with the US, similar to the War of 1812.  Consequently, a capital well to the north of the border was required, instead of Kingston, and Queen Victoria selected Ottawa.

Ottawa is one of the world’s cleanest cities and this is very evident to any visitor.  The Ottawa River forms the border between the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The city of Ottawa lies on the southern or Ontario side of the river. The city on the Quebec side of the river is called Gatineau. Geographically, the whole urban area seems like one big city with a river running through the middle and with plenty of bridges. Linguistically however, one notices that Gatineau is very much more French than Ottawa.   In fact, three major rivers meet in Ottawa.  In addition to the Ottawa River, there are the Gatineau River and the Rideau River.  The Rideau River runs south to the Great Lakes and to the St Lawrence River, which ought to have made life very convenient for the people of Ottawa. Unfortunately, rapids and waterfalls render parts of the Rideau River impossible to navigate, so the construction of the Rideau Canal was necessary to give Ottawa access to the sea.  The word “Rideau” is French for “curtain”, which is what the falls resemble in winter.  Ottawa is really cold at that time of year and then the frozen waters of the canal become the world’s largest skating rink as well as giving skaters convenient access to downtown Ottawa.    Downtown Ottawa is dominated by Government buildings, which include all the buildings related to Canada’s parliament and Supreme Court and the official residences of the Prime Minister of Canada and of the Governor General, who is the representative of the monarch in Canada. Then there is an abundance of statues, universities and museums.  Finally, there is a plethora of foreign embassies – 130 to be precise, although some streets seem to be nothing but embassies.  It is as well that, instead of opening an embassy in Ottawa, several dozen smaller countries rely on their US embassy to handle Canadian matters.

Russian Embassy in Ottawa

It was an Ottawa embassy that provided the West with the first evidence of the Cold War and the fact that our Russian allies were not as friendly as we had assumed.  The date was September 5th 1945, only a few days after World War Two had ended.  Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet Russian embassy in Ottawa, defected with a mass of documents showing a big Soviet spy network operating in the west and together with plans for a Soviet atomic bomb.

Algonquin Indians
As one drives around this impressive city, it is hard to remember that Europeans did not arrive here until a couple of centuries ago.   Before then, the Algonquin Indians lived here and the name “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word “adawe”, meaning “to trade”.  The first Europeans could not grow enough food to survive, so they began cutting down trees and transporting them by river to markets in the east. The timber trade enabled them to survive and Ottawa was soon thriving, even though few lumberjacks from those times could have imagined the very dignified city into which it has developed.

This piece, written by Bob, originally appeared on our website on November 9, 2011.