TORONTO MOVIE SHOOT

From a few weeks ago in downtown Toronto on a Sunday morning. Toronto becomes New York.

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No idea what movie, but I will be looking for it. It obviously involves destruction.

EMPOWERMENT

A story about Canada Post.

I have two parcels shipping from Vancouver to Toronto express – 2 day delivery. Unfortunately, the shipper accidentally sent one of the parcels via Canada Post and the other via UPS. The second I saw Canada Post I rang them and tried to stop them – but it was too late. Both had left the building.

In my mind, I just knew that the UPS parcel would get there just fine and the Canada Post “Express Post” parcel would have a problem. Sure enough, the UPS parcel was on time. 9AM at the doorstep. Where is the Canada Post parcel?

A quick check of the tracking website:

Canada Post

So I call. This is the condensed version of the conversation:

Me: “Why is my parcel at the post office, when I paid extra to have it delivered to my door?”

Her: “Because the shipper does not require a signature for delivery”

Me: “Pardon?”

Her: “Because the shipper did not click the box and require a signature for delivery, we do not deliver it to your door”

Me: “So, because they did not require a signature which means you can just drop it off because you do not have to make multiple trips to get that signature, you will not deliver it?”

Her: “Correct. Plus, it will not fit in your mailbox”  (It is a 13lbs package).

Me: “Ok, but there is someone there. Right now. All day. And you guaranteed delivery so please deliver it to my front door just like UPS and FedEx. That is why I paid extra.”

Her: “I can’t without my supervisors permission”

Me: “You can’t make that decision”

Her: “No”

I feel bad for Canada Post employees – that they are not trusted to make the right decisions, for the benefit of the customer, at that moment. Certainly not the Four Seasons model.

They wonder why they lost $193M last year? It is pretty obvious to me.

CONGRATULATIONS CANADA

This weekend the National Post made a claim – after 40 years, Quebec separatism is finally dead.

Quebec’s election campaign — and what a volatile, nasty, mud-splattered affair it has been — is all but over. But the sense of impending national doom that animated the first days has passed. That’s because the threat of Quebec separatism itself, the great existential conundrum that has gripped this country these past 40 years, has once again receded. It happened rather suddenly, mid-way through the campaign, as polls showed the Parti Québécois cratering in public support as the likelihood of yet another sovereignty referendum — the third since 1980 — hit home.

So this will be the enduring message of the past four weeks, after the signs are put away and the resignations tendered: C’est fini, cette affaire. And this time, because of the blessings of demographics, age and time, it’s not likely coming back. Some will try — led by Pierre Karl Peladeau, perhaps — to reanimate the un-dearly departed. They will fail. This was their shot; the unprecedented ferocity of the campaign just ending indicates all sides understood this. What remains is for the funeral arrangements to be made, the embalming completed, and the mourning to be done by those who will mourn. The rest of us? We can raise a glass, and move on.

In speaking with friends in Quebec, it would seem the Post’s demographic observation might be correct. The problem for the PQ is that the next generation is not passionate about separatism. In an always on, socially connected world the old borders and even neighborhoods of our childhood are less and less relevant. Today’s children live globally, connecting with people of every nationality, language and belief. They are becoming children of the world – not children of a province, state or country.

On Steam, it is not uncommon to hear the speakers of my son’s computer belting out many different languages from the players online; Russian, Korean, North American, European. All time zones, all languages with an internet connection.

For myself, the last decade has meant several international stints and while living away, I have become more and more appreciative of the culture that is Canada.

When I explain what Canada is to people – I always start with the diversity. The diversity of the land from the rocky mountains of the west, the open plains, the deep forests and wide lakes of Quebec and Ontario, the winds and oceans of the east. And of course, the diversity of the people. To be Canadian is to be from everywhere; Native Canadian, European, Asian.

Separatists might not be happy after losing the election but I am. A Canada without Quebec is not Canada.

HAPPY CANADA DAY

To all of my friends and family back “home”, Happy Canada Day.

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I was speaking with someone about Canada last week and we agreed on a key point, when you are not living in Canada you become more Canadian.

Proud to be a Canadian. We lit off Tokyo’s version of fireworks last night, not the same as the monsters we use to set off in the backyard but an apt celebration (including sparkling sake).

Happy Canada Day!

DINNER WITH A GEISHA (Maiko) Part I in KYOTO

This is a very interesting post to write as it elicits mixed feelings.

Part of living in a different culture is that never ending quest to understand, learn and to grow while trying not to use your own cultural biases to judge. After all, perception is reality.

As I have often joked with friends back home, living in Japan is like living on Mars. It is just so fascinatingly different.

The Japanese think differently than North Americans, and different than Canadians. How can it not be the case? Canada is a country of every culture (Asian, European, African) where Japan is comprised of 98.5% Japanese and non-existent immigration. Canada is a country with only a few hundred years of history while Japan is one of the world’s oldest societies, with 3,000 years of history and a clear isolationist bent where foreigners were killed on sight until the late 1800s. Canadians are individuals, in a society where they cut their lives out of the unconquered wilderness with an understanding that merit leads to fortune while Japan is about the group good, where the notion of paying a high performer more than others in the team is at odds with their values.

At a very fundamental level, culture, history, education and values, Japan is different than most other countries in the world and the Geisha is one of those cases.

Prior to leaving for Kyoto, we watched Memoirs of a Geisha and I could not help but find it disturbing on many levels. Obviously the selling of young girls into a brothel and a Geisha house was disturbing as were many of the scenes, but this type of abuse is unfortunately, common around the world.

The uniquely Japanese part that was disturbing was the whole notion of the Geisha. Reading broadly, the information was varied. Prostitution is disputed and the truth hard to determine; in this post it is clearly stated it does not happen yet another quote says that in 1929 3/4 of geisha were prostitutes.  While there is an elegance to the appearance of a Geisha, the information on “what a Geisha is” left us wondering about the profession … Noble undertaking or a veneer hiding a seedy underside of sex for sale?

Nothing made us wonder more than this question: what does it mean that this profession is funded by older business men, where the Geisha’s sole purpose is to entertain them every evening? I find the feminism assertions hard to swallow and cannot think that it is good for marriages.

It is with those questions in mind that we did something that is not common for a gaijin.

We booked a dinner in a wonderful restaurant with a room by the garden, a Geisha and an English interpreter to learn.

We were not disappointed.

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MY FIRST PICTURES, CANADA

 

I have been cleaning out some photos and found the very first shots I took with my new Canon 5D Mark III in the summer.  The coneflowers (Echinacea) were out, and so were the butterflies and bees.

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DAYS LIKE THIS …

 

I am glad I am not in Toronto. A friend sent me a note with a pic of the streets of Toronto .. dark .. and –25 with the wind chill. I do not miss that. 8C is t-shirt weather for a Canadian (smile).

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EH?

 

I had to go to the Canadian embassy in Tokyo last week to have a bureaucrat witness my signing a piece of paper, proving that it is in fact my signature (And you thought Canada was paperwork heavy!). It is a nice embassy, in fact the Canadian garden is seen as a landmark in Tokyo. Too bad our embassy sees it necessary to portray our country with lame stereotype billboards out front.

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Beautiful artwork from Canadian’s dumbed down with a stereotype. The only thing they didn’t put on the billboard is a Canadian Mountie and a Tim Horton’s logo.

Brutal.

TIME TO LEAVE

 

Well, Tokyo here we come. Reflecting back on work over the last 3 years, I had the opportunity to do a few very interesting things with clients. My top 3:

#3. Play in a pro-am with Louis Oosthuizen at the Mike Weir charity event the day before the Canadian Open pro-am. Capilano is the prettiest golf course I have every played. Ever.

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Louis is a great guy, although a little shy. For the record, my least favourite moment was when I picked it clean out of the bunker jumping it onto the next tee and an older woman exclaimed “Oh dear, that isn’t good”. My favourite moment …. outdriving Louis with a 300 yard bomb. I let him hit first (smile).

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#2. Joining a SWAT team for a day – rappelling down a building and shooting a fully automatic weapon for the first time. It had been a while since I have shot a gun (other than paintball with the boys) and had never shot full auto (shotguns, hunting rifles, my .22 as a kid), but shooting comes back to you quickly.

2009 11 Hamilton Police

And last, but not least, my most interesting client event over the last 3 years.

#1. Playing hockey at a client event at the Bell Center in Montreal. Although wearing Guy Lafleur’s number didn’t help my goal scoring. I suffer some kind of Montreal curse … Multiple games, more than a few heartbreakers, but no goals. Standing at the line in the Bell Center (I keep wanting to call it the forum) when the Canadian anthem played gave me shivers – truly awesome and distinctly Canadian.

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That is me on the left and the goalie making an insane save to keep my record at a whole bunch of assists and no goals … The slacker in the number 76 somehow got a bunch of goals (you know who you are) and wouldn’t let me forget it for 2 months. See the goalie lying on his side? The puck is teetering on his shoulder. I flicked it up twice and ….. no joy (And it would have won the game). My shame forever caught in this photo on the jumbotron (smile).

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I will miss you Canada. Ciao for now.

SIRIUS ON SONOS

 

Not complaining (too loudly) about we Canadians getting treated as second class citizens when it comes to services (ahem, Pandora) but at least one wrong has been righted. Big user/fan of Sonos and glad to FINALLY see Sirius live and streaming. It was a Coffeehouse weekend.

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THE LAST DUEL

 

One last Maritime story. As we drove past the village of New Maryland (Named by a settler from Maryland) I noticed a sign declaring it the home of the last fatal duel in New Brunswick. Of course I had to open up a browser and start reading the village’s history:

The village was named by a Mr. Arnold, a settler from Maryland, USA circa 1817. The area was first called Maryland, and Maryland Hill, but as early as 1825 it began to be referred to as New Maryland.

Among the historical anecdotes relating to New Maryland’s history, one particular event stands out: New Maryland was the venue for the last fatal duel in the Province. The famous Street-Wetmore duel, in which George Ludlow Wetmore was killed, took place on the Segee farm on October 2, 1821.

Take a moment to read about the duel. It was a rather unfathomable event, especially considering that this was the frontier and the men involved were leaving behind their families to fend by themselves if killed (as one was). The duel took place under the guise of “honour”, but the reality is that this was a selfish act fuelled by ego:

As he sat before his hearth that evening, the young lawyer’s anger blazed as brightly as the fire in front of him. He was oblivious to the sounds of his wife, pregnant with her fourth child, setting the children for the night. Street’s insults and the raised hand consumed him, until his thoughts took a dangerous turn.

Ego is a dangerous thing ….

JOHNSTON CANYON BANFF

 

My blog entries on Banff are a bit scattered. One of the best hikes that we took while in Banff National Park was Johnston Canyon. It was an overcast day, but we were up for it. Judging by the parking lot, it is a popular hike.

You have a few choices on this hike, a 1.1 km hike to the lower falls, a 2.6 km hike to the upper falls or a rather rigorous 5.6 km hike to the Ink Pots. We chose to go all the way.

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It is a beautiful climb.

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The inkpots at the end of the climb are not really that magnificent, but interesting. Seven mineral springs that bubble and swirl non-stop in big pools.

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But the view of the valley at the top is spectacular.

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Of course, the water is cold and the purest you can get.

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After leaving the canyon we happened upon a herd of sheep trotting down the road, unperturbed by the cars all around them.

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A great day out.

SULPHUR MOUNTAIN II – BANFF

 

At the top of the mountain you get a moments enjoyment. You look around and enjoy the spectacular views as it dawns upon you that you are not at the top yet.

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At the gondola exit is a tea house and various tourist booths. While we were there we were able to watch how they get supplies to the top of mountain.

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I am always amazed at where a tree can grow.

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Spectacular.

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The true top.

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A DOG, A COUCH AND THE FREE MASONS

Part of the move back to Canada was the repatriation of many of our items from storage – one being our dining room set. We bought the set while living in our very first home, a 140 year old beautiful Victorian home called ‘Gordon Hall’ that we refinished from top to bottom.

It was a grand home, 11 foot ceilings, all plaster walls, original windows which were not well insulated but had a patina to them when the light hit them in the evening thanks to their hand crafted and imperfect nature. While in the house we started to look for a dining room set that would fit.  The dining room was huge, and a ‘new’ set would not look right so we started to look around antique shops and spread the word.

During that time we also became proud parents of Bram – our lab. I had always wanted a dog. Bram was amazing and like all dogs he had a few ‘foibles’. One being that he liked to lay on his back as a puppy and put his head under the couch while I sat watching TV. What I didn’t realize was that while he was doing that he was also chewing the front of the couch. So, after we finally realized this and corrected his behaviour, we set about getting it fixed – by a local upholster – Paul.

For the record … how Bram liked to sleep.

Brams Puppy Approach to Sleeping

Paul was a great guy and while we were talking to him we noticed that he refinished a lot of furniture so we mentioned our need of a dining room set. He knew our house, the old Victorian style and said he would keep an eye out. Late one Sunday night Paul showed up at our door with his cube van. He said he had ‘our set’. He had been at auction and came across a 10 piece set that was truly unique. It was 110 years old, solid mahogany with a china cabinet with snaked ‘S’ glass and a side cupboard that is 8 feet long and about 400 lbs. The widow demanded that it be sold as a set and he bought it for himself. When he got home, it would not fit.

We bought it on the spot.

Unfortunately, as it came out of storage (we stored it while in Europe), it took a beating. Turns out that when they store your stuff it is as individual pieces that are moved around frequently and despite it being packaged (but not crated), there were chips, cracks and damage. Annoying but also the impetus to get it refinished for the first time in a century.

While we were giving it a quick check over with the refinisher, we came across this business card in one of the drawers. Amazing, from a time past. Note the phone number and the text on the back. Knowing that the Masonic temple is a super secret society, this is obviously an oversight on behalf of Mr. Fitzgerald.

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Dining Room Card Back

I can just imagine him trying to type this on an old type writer, the card not fitting and slipping as he tried to knock out the last line. Who are the Princes of Libanus? Turns out it is a Chivalric degree (22) in the Free Mason hierarchy. Not knowing much about Free Masons, I began to read. Interesting society, with an interesting list of requirements for joining:

Generally, to be a regular Freemason, a candidate must:[21]

  • Be a man who comes of his own free will.
  • Believe in a Supreme Being (the form of which is left to open interpretation by the candidate).
  • Be at least the minimum age (from 18–25 years old depending on the jurisdiction).
  • Be of good morals, and of good reputation.
  • Be of sound mind and body (Lodges had in the past denied membership to a man because of a physical disability; however, now, if a potential candidate says a disability will not cause problems, it will not be held against him).
  • Be free-born (or “born free”, i.e. not born a slave or bondsman).[57] As with the previous, this is entirely an historical holdover, and can be interpreted in the same manner as it is in the context of being entitled to write a will. Some jurisdictions have removed this requirement.
  • Be capable of furnishing character references, as well as one or two references from current Masons, depending on jurisdiction.

Deviation from one or more of these requirements is generally the barometer of Masonic regularity or irregularity. However, an accepted deviation in some regular jurisdictions is to allow a Lewis (the son of a Mason)[58] to be initiated earlier than the normal minimum age for that jurisdiction, although no earlier than the age of 18.

Some Grand Lodges in the United States have an additional residence requirement, candidates being expected to have lived within the jurisdiction for a certain period of time, typically six months.[59]

Fascinating stuff … as is the list of people who were Free Masons.

ALBA NUADH (Nova Scotia) IOMALRTEAN NA GALDHLIG (Ministry of Gaelic Affairs)

Imagine my surprise while in Halifax when I walked into the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to see the below – the Office of Gaelic Affairs. One of the things that I love about Canada, immigrant history remains strong – in this case Scottish (oops – corrected from Irish). The Gaelic language is spoken frequently (didn’t know that) and remains a strong part of the culture.

Ministry of Gaelic Affairs Nova Scotia

I was also told a funny Gaelic story. When the G8 was held out there, an ad was put in the paper for a bilingual taxi driver to shuttle dignitaries and staff. When they hired the guy, someone tried to speak French to him. He didn’t speak a word. They hauled him in and said ‘Right here on your application you said you were bilingual’. ‘Yes’ he responded, ‘I also speak Gaelic’.

Another funny story.  While I was in Halifax I was told about the European tourist who mistook Sydney, Nova Scotia with Sydney, Australia. Via:

Joannes Rutten should fire his travel agent. Or pay closer attention. The 71-year-old Dutch tourist and his 14-year-old grandson Nick thought they were flying from Amsterdam to Sydney, Australia. Through a mix-up, they ended up flying to Sydney, Nova Scotia in Canada.

Air Canada arranged hotel rooms in Sydney, NS for the pair, until they could arrange flight back to Amsterdam where they could sort out their flights.

It turns out Rutten said they didn’t know there was another Sydney. He’s not alone. Other tourists have ended up in the wrong Sydney before.

The weather was bad (very Irish – rain and wind), but the sunset was spectacular as we caught a quick flight over to St. John. And yes, that is a prop. Luckily it was not a Dash 8 that we flew in on (which is about as smooth as a roller coaster ride).

Flying to St John NB

CLOSING OUT NORMANDY: CANADA’S JUNO BEACH

Our last stop on the Normandy trip was Juno beach – the Canadian beach. Unlike the other beaches, no monument to the Canadian effort existed until June, 2003, when the Juno Beach Center was inaugurated:

The Centre was conceived in the 1990s by a group of Canadian veterans who felt that the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian soldiers during the liberation of Europe were not properly commemorated and represented in the Normandy region. The project, spearheaded by veteran Garth Webb and his companion Lise Cooper, began initially as a grassroots fundraising campaign that eventually gained the financial support of many institutions and businesses and the Canadian and French governments at many levels. The Centre was inaugurated on 6 June, 2003. Over one thousand Canadian veterans attended the inauguration in 2003, as well as the 2004 ceremony for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

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The center is very well done. Outside are plaques from towns across Canada, we found the City of Barrie:

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The center covers the entire war, with one interactive display kicking it off. You stand/sit in a room that is built like a landing craft and watch the famous video Juno beach video. Very moving.

As we wandered through the center, you remember how a small nation contributed broadly to the war effort with many battles almost forgotten. For instance, I never knew that Canada served with the British in Hong Kong:

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The beach itself looks flat and open, but history tells us that it was not a nice place to be landing:

Juno was the second most heavily defended of the five landing sites chosen.[3] General Wilhelm Richter was in charge of the 716th Division guarding the beach, with 11 heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75 mm guns at his disposal. Additionally, pillboxes and other fortifications were present all along the beach, most heavily concentrated in the Courseulles-sur-Mer region. The seawall was twice the height of Omaha Beach’s, and the sea was heavily mined.[4]

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But the remnants are still there.

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After travelling up and down the beach, we headed into the town and stopped at a little river side café to enjoy mussels and seafood. Nothing beats a seaside café on a sunny day. As I looked over at the fishing boats, I was fooled by this optical illusion and commented to the boys:

‘Hey look, they must have taken that boat apart to fix it. That is quite a load to keep in place while fixing. I wonder why they are doing it in the water?’ (LOL … it is 2 boats).

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And with that, we made our final stop at the grave of Ross Ellsmere and then headed home. A historic place well worth visiting and remembering.

REMEMBER ROSS ELLSMERE, ST DESIR CEMETERY, FRANCE

A few weekends ago our family jumped in the car and headed to Normandy for a long weekend. I will provide additional details on the trip in future entries, as it was one of my favourite trips that we have taken in the last 2 years.

A big part of the trip was the goal of finding one of Narda’s relatives in the war cemetery near the D-Day landings. Veterans Affairs has done an amazing job through the Canada Remembers project of cataloguing where our war dead lay.

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I do not have immediate relatives who served in the Canadian forces during WWII as my family mostly moved from Holland in the 50’s. Ross Ellsmere served in the Air Force as a pilot and died a month before D-Day (probably on a bombing run).  He is buried at St. Desir Cemetery, which is found after a long and winding drive through the French countryside. On the road we were lucky to see the small sign pointing down a side road, in the middle of nowhere. I wondered what it would be like.

Situated just out side of the town of Lisieux, famed for the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is one of the smaller British Cemeteries.

At first the  British and Commonwealth War Graves Commission buried the fallen German troops in a field next doo, where they still are. The Cemetery contains the dead from three different battles. Firstly there are four First Would War Burials who were transferred here after then end of WWII. There are men who fell in 1940 during the retreat to the Seine and those who fell in 1944 during the recapture of the area. Recently the local French village has made a walkway of peace between the two cemeteries

In all there are 598 graves here including 16 Canadian, 6 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 5 South African, and 1 American.

When I stepped out of the car I was hit with two feelings. The first is pride, the cemetery is immaculate – pristine and beautiful. The government is taking care of our war heroes in the right way. The second is a sense of magnitude. This is a small cemetery (550), but the rows and rows of graves is humbling, a testament to the price that was paid for our freedom.

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The grave of Ross Ellsmere (22) is surrounded by men who died on the same day. It was a bloody day and you are struck by one thing – the age. Very few are older than 22 or 23.

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Right beside the cemetery is St. Desir-de-Lisieux, the German cemetery. Unlike the Allied cemetery, there are no words on the graves written from loved ones. There is just name, rank, date. In fact, there are 2 men to each cross and as the picture shows, it is a very big cemetery – 3,735 to be exact.

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2009 05 03 St Desir-de-Lisieux German cemetary (6)

Never forget.

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