Destination Southern Alberta

Lifting off from Calgary International Airport into a robin egg blue sky, the Rocky Mountains, powdered with fresh snow, shimmer in the afternoon sun along the western horizon. To the east, snow-dappled prairie, where vast herds of buffalo once roamed, stretches to a distant horizon. The contrast of plains and peaks is a spectacular beginning to our forty-five minute flight to Lethbridge. This vibrant  Southern Alberta city boasts a population of over ninety thousand, has a strong agricultural base, an expanding light industrial centre and a top-rated university. Established near the infamous Fort Whoop-Up with a wild-west past, It’s also the gateway to exciting adventures.

Start your adventure at the Galt Museum, a modern, beautifully designed facility. Take in the vivid displays that highlight the area’s colourful history, and then  relax in museum lobby, where panoramic windows overlook the grandeur of the coulees and the old Man River valley. Gaze across the valley at West Lethbridge, and marvel at the centrepiece of West Lethbridge – the unique, monolithic structure of the University of Lethbridge nestled between coulee hills.

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Sunset at The University of Lethbridge

Descend into the Oldman River valley river by car, and then walk or cycle along miles of well-tended trails. Keep a sharp lookout for herds of pronghorn antelope and white-tailed deer foraging in the coulee valleys – and don’t be surprised if a metre-tall jackrabbit bounds across your path with ten foot leaps.

Rivervalley near Lethbridge

Southern Alberta was the true wild west of legend. Fort Whoop-Up, near present day Lethbridge, hosted a lawless culture of buffalo hunting and whiskey trading. The infamous fort was the impetus for the formation of the North West Mounted Police, forerunners of today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1874, two hundred and seventy-five officers were dispatched to Fort Whoop-Up to establish law and order . [1]

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First home of the Northwest Mounted Police.

A visit to the re-creation of the infamous Fort Whoop-up is a must-see attraction, and then visit nearby Indian Battle Park, the site of a great and bloody battle between the Cree and Blackfoot Nations in 1870. The Coal Banks Interpretive Center stands near the actual site of the battle where over three-hundred Cree warriors perished. [2]

In 1874, Pioneer Nicholas Sheran was the first to mine coal, along the banks of the Old Man River, (known at the time as the Belly River), but it was Sir Alexander Galt and others who formed The Northwest Coal Company  in  1882 and turned coal into a major industry. The railroad soon followed. Coal was king for many decades. The last mine, Galt # 8 closed in 1957. The framework of the mine tipple and the mine water tower still stand, and are visible towards the northern end of West Lethbridge. A local organization, The Galt #8 Historical Society, aims to purchase the Galt # 8 Mine Site  and convert it into an interactive interpretative and community centre. [3]

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The tipple, a few buildings and a scattering of old machinery is all that remains of the Age of Coal.

While you’re in the river valley, look up – way up. At 1.6 km in length and 314 feet high, The High level Bridge; it is the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world.

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High Level Bridge – Lethbridge

A visit to Waterton Lakes National Park an hour and  half drive from Lethbridge is another must-do. Spectacular scenery and world class hiking , horseback riding and even an eighteen hole golf course awaits. Waterton townsite has retained its quaint charm, but offers accommodation and dining facilities to suit all budgets.

A day trip to the Head-Smashed-In buffalo jump is an unforgettable expedition. Aboriginal peoples of the plains used this site for 6,000 years before European contact. Now a UNESCO world Heritage Site, Head-Smashed-In brings visitors face to face with the history and relationship of ancient aboriginal peoples and the buffalo – and you’ll meet present day aboriginal people who act as interpreters and guides

These are just a sample of the many attractions and magical allure of southern Alberta. There is more-much more to keep you coming back.

[1] History of the RCMP

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/hist/index-eng.htm

2[] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Belly_River

[3] Galt #8 Historical Site Society (http://galt8.org/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Red Lights on the Prairies

red lights book photo

While perusing an assortment of used books at a Victoria book sale, the one above, Red Lights on the Prairies’[1] caught my eye – proving once again that covers do sell books. Flipping to the table of contents, my long held belief about my hometown being a quiet, unexciting, and frankly somewhat boring place was shattered. There it was, in black, white – and red.

James H. Gray is the author of several best selling books on the social history of western Canada. In this book, he reveals that from about 1880 to 1940, Lethbridge, and other emerging centres across the western Canadian prairies had thriving red light districts that persisted despite pressure from the temperance and moral reform societies. Gray’s well-documented book illustrates the frequent conflicts and often-fiery rhetoric between the reformers, town councils and police, who were caught in the middle. Town councils and police believed that prostitution couldn’t be eliminated, and so the next best thing was to contain it in segregated areas where it could be policed and monitored.

Mainstream history, Gray points out, has downplayed the existence of prostitution. The dearth of written material on the subject illustrates Gray’s point. Gray goes where other historian have seldom trod. His well researched treatise chronicles the role of prostitution in the development of western Canada, demonstrating that it was an integral part of the social and economic fabric of society.

“The generosity of the whores of the West was more than just legend; it was a well documented fact. A pioneer CPR company doctor recalled that in times of disaster it was always the local prostitutes to succour the sufferers or survivors.”[2]

Gray’s work gives insightful glimpses into the gritty reality of the lives of miners, cowboys, homesteaders and entrepreneurs, and into important issues of the day, from haphazard development, lack of planning, rancorous political battles. The author supplements his research with personal interviews that breathe life into the history.

Demographics explain the large assortment of bordellos that thrived in Lethbridge. The coalmines, on which Lethbridge was founded, attracted large numbers of young, single miners from Europe and the British Isles. Lethbridge became a major cattle-shipping point, attracting a second group of young men – cowboys. Between the two groups, they provided a very comfortable living for the madams and their girls. Gray writes,

“What other community, for example, could claim that its gaggle of whorehouses doubled as cultural centres, as Lethbridge’s did, during the expiring years of Victoria’s reign.

“By 1890 there were six brothels and the coal company dormitory within the triangle which was famous throughout southern Alberta as “The Point”. It’s gaudily painted two and three story houses became the town’s most prominent landmark. They could be spotted miles away from almost any direction, day or night.” [3]

In the photo below, “The Point” is the strip of land in the foreground, with the high-level bridge in the background.

The Point lethbridge Albeerta

 

In my next post, the life and times of Dolly Arthur– the last legal madam in Ketchikan, Alaska.

[1] Red Lights on the Prairies (Gray, 1971)

[2] Ibid. p. 197

[3] Ibid. p. 181

Pickleball Mania

Parksville Seniors Pickleball Club

 

 

Who would have believed that Pickleball, a game invented on Bainbridge Island, Washington State fifty-one years ago, was destined to become the fastest growing sport in North America? The game owes its name to Pickle, a ball-retrieving cocker spaniel.

According to the US Pickleball Association (USPA) there are currently over 200,000 players  in North America.[1]  Pickleball Canada reported six-thousand players in 2014 and twelve thousand in 2016, doubling in just two years – and the fastest growing group is 55+.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a net a few inches lower than in tennis. Players use what looks like an oversized ping-pong paddle to send a ball back and forth across the net – until someone misses. Be careful not to step in to the kitchen!

To understand the popularity of the game, visit any pickleball venue. It’s a very social game. You’ll see people having a great time. One of the players will welcome you with a big smile, explain the game, and invite you to join in. You’ll play with a variety of partners and get to know them better chatting between games. With the growing popularity of pickleball, chances are someone you know will be there.

Pickleball is a fun way to exercise. The bending, reaching and court positioning helps improve mobility and flexibility. Striking the ball enhances hand-eye coordination, while keeping score helps with short-term memory. I’m still working on that, but no one worries too much about the score. Time literally seems to fly by, and I always leave a session feeling tired, but exhilarated. To get started, all you need are court shoes, and gym attire or comfortable clothing. Most venues provide paddles for beginners.

Even if you haven’t played racquet sports, Pickleball basics are easy to learn, but a good place to start is at a beginner’s drop-in clinic. After a few sessions, you’ll be ready to join the regular drop in sessions offered at many recreation centres.

Whether you’re a snowbird and flock south for the winter or travel close to home, there’s probably a |Pickleball group nearby.  No matter where you go in the Pickleball world, you won’t be a stranger for long.

If serious competition is your forte, Pickleball accommodates that, too. There’s a range of fun and seriously competitive tournaments. Oh, yes. There’s one other thing I should mention. Pickleball is highly addictive.

[1] http://www.usapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Pickleball-Fact-Sheet-2015.pdf

[2] www.pickleballcanada.org/

[3] http://www.oliverchronicle.com/pickleball-popular-among-thousands-of-seniors/

Thanksgiving in L.A.

We made the trek from Victoria, British Columbia on the southern tip of Vancouver island to Lethbridge, in the southern reaches of Alberta to celebrate Thanksgiving with  family. By car, it’s a ferry ride and fifteen hours of mountain driving – or, three hours flight time. We usually put our air miles to use and fly, as we did this time. We flew to Calgary, stayed overnight  at a hotel near the airport, and the next morning took the connector flight to Lethbridge, Alberta – or L.A. as it’s often referred to.

That flight is an experience. From the departure gate, we board a bus that takes us to the far end of the apron where our ride awaits. The aircraft is a Beechcraft turbo prop that holds about eighteen people, and it’s full. It’s a cosy experience.The seats look like they were borrowed from a kindergarten class, but  every seat is a window seat. The flight from Calgary takes forty-five minutes.

Lethbridge is also my home town and soon familiar landmarks appear on the horizon. Our flight path takes us over the high level bridge that spans the mile and a quarter river valley carved by the Old Man River. It’s difficult to get a decent photo from the aircraft window, but here are some ground photos of the big bridge.

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Under the bridge

The modern City of Lethbridge, with a population approaching one hundred thousand, is located near the site of the original settlement, of Fort Whoop-Up. The fort was a trading post established in 1869 by two American traders. Originally named Fort Hamilton after one of the founders, the fort earned a wild and lawless reputation.

One type of alcohol sold by the Whoop-Up bandits was known as Whoop-Up Bug Juice, a highly prized alcohol spiked with ginger, molasses, and red pepper. It was then coloured with black chewing tobacco, watered down, and boiled to make “firewater”.[5] 

The reputation of Fort Whoop-Up led to the establishment of the North West Mounted Police and their famous march west in 1874. Reminiscent of on present day ‘war on drugs’ efforts.

Fort Whoop-up has been re-created in Indian Battle Park in the Riverbottom near the big bridge.

This photo overlooks the river valley towards the site of the original fort near  the junction of the Oldman and St. Mary’s rivers. The Rocky Mountains are just visible against the horizon.

Coulees near Lethbridge

Looking towards the original site of Fort Whoop-up

We often stay at Paradise Canyon, a timeshare and golf resort in the valley. It’s a beautiful setting, and we’ve been here so often that it feels like our home away from home  – but the weather is subject to rapid change at this time of year.

This photo is from our timeshare unit two days ago.

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This was the scene when we looked out today.

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We enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving feast with family, and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Kate and Will’s Farewell

It was an action packed week for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their two young children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. It was the youngster’s first debut into the celebrity status that they’ll have to endure all of their lives, but by the time they left, both seemed quite comfortable with the adoring crowds and cameras watching their every move. George and Charlotte spent most of their time at Government House in Victoria, where they they were made to feel quite at home. Royal watchers caught glimpses of the children at play. The kids even spent some time at Gyro Park in Cadboro Bay.

Meanwhile, from their Government House base, their parents did a whirlwind tour of British Columbia, spending time in Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside, taking in wineries in the Okanagan. up to Haida Gwaii,  and then up to Whitehorse. Their itineraries have been well covered in local and national media, and I won’t dwell on them in detail here.

Here in Victoria, there were two main opportunities to see, and if one was very lucky, to interact with the Duke and Dutchess – Wills and Kate. When they arrived offered the greatest opportunities, but huge crowds made it impossible to get close. Some people staked out their spots along the royal route hours in advance.

On their final day, we went to the Ogden Point breakwater. Kate and Wills were scheduled to ride a tall ship. It was a situation of hurry up and wait, but being part of the crowd in a celebratory mood is a big part of the experience. As their motorcade drove by, I did manage to get a shot of the royal couple in their limo. Following are some photos of the scene at the breakwater.

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Here they come!

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Here they are! “Hi John”, Wills calls out.

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The Breakwater was packed

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A tall ship off Ogden Point

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Lots of interesting people.

A few hours later, we went to the Inner Harbor to bid farewell to the Royal family as they departed via float plane for Vancouver, and then home. I’ll bet they were exhausted, with all of the meeting and greeting, handshaking and talking they have to do, all the while looking attentive and happy.

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A fond farewell –  Christy Clark  in red

 

A Parksville Summer

Pacific Shores Nature Resort

Pacific Shores is a fifteen-acre resort on Craig Bay. We’ve had a time-share unit and have been here many times. It’s very comfortable and feels like home away from home. Our unit is roomy and well appointed, featuring a full kitchen and in-suite laundry facilities – and it has great views overlooking the bay.

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Paths meander through well-tended gardens, where plants from many parts of the world cohabit with native species. My favorites are the several varieties of apple trees which ripen just in time for our visit. A trail along the estuary, a salmon spawning stream, offers views of several duck species and other birds. The trail  connects with regional trails for longer walks.

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A knob of layered, weathered rock at the tip of the point is an eye-catching feature, inviting exploration at low tide. The bay is shallow and calm, ideal for kayaking, paddle boarding, or collecting oysters. The setting sun paints sky and water with bands of ever changing colors while stately grey herons stalk their prey in the shallows.

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Pacific Shore’s amenities include an indoor pool and hot tub and a work out room. An outdoor hot tub nestled in a rocky grotto surrounded by gardens. Another hot-tub on the point offers views over the bay. The point also features a fully equipped barbecue center with tables and chairs for casual dining and a lower deck for sunning or relaxing. It’s an ideal place to meet travelers from around the world.

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The Royal Buzz

Victoria is eagerly awaiting the arrival of their Royal Highness’s, William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, the Dutchess of Cambridge – fondly known as Kate and William. The royal progeny, Prince George of Cambridge, and Princess Charlotte of Cambridge will accompany their parents – and undoubtedly steal much of the spotlight.

William and Kate married on 29 April 2011 at Westminster Abbey. Prince George, was born on 22 July 2013, and Princess Charlotte on 2 May 2015. Various media sources have reported that a third royal offspring is in the plan. Incidentally, Kate and William will have a night away from the kids when they visit Vancouver – just coincidence, I’m sure.

They royal family and entourage arrive tomorrow (Saturday, Sept 24) at the airport via military helicopter. The motorcade will proceed to Government House where the family will check in – probably no credit card will be required, but there may be a damage deposit required, what  with the young prince roaming around among  all those expensive and breakable trinkets.   T

The royal’s public debut in Victoria will begin  tomorrow afternoon  at the Legislature at 5:00 pm. Thirty to forty thousand royal watchers are expected to swarm the legislature lawns and inner harbor. Setup crews and media outlets have been out in full  force over the past couple of days. Here are a few photos of the pre-visit preparations taken last night and this afternoon.

 

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Queen Victoria awaits her relatives

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The red carpet runway is ready

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Taken from the main media camera platform

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Summer at Parksville

Once again this summer we took the trek up island to enjoy our time share unit at Pacific Shores Nature Resort near Parksville. But  this year, instead of  taking the Island Highway and  joining the perpetual rush of traffic racing over the Malahat with a monster truck trying to kiss our rear bumper, we took the alternative route, the Mill Bay ferry. It’s an amazing difference. In contrast to the often harrowing  Malahat ordeal, the Mill Bay option is a relaxing and scenic forty-five minute ferry ride across the Saanich Inlet.  There’s no reservations on the MV Klitsa, our ride across the inlet, and so we arrived at the Brentwood Bay  terminal forty-five minutes early. We stopped at Brentwood Bay Thrifty’s to buy our tickets – at a substantial discount. Thrifty’s at Broadmead and at Mill Bay also sell tickets.

Mill Bay terminal - MV Klitsa arriving

Seahorse Cafe Brentwood Bay

Seahorse Cafe, Brentwood Bay

At the Brentwood ferry terminal, we got out to stretch our legs. The delicious aroma of bacon and coffee beckoned from The Seahorse restaurant. It’s right on the pier just steps away from the ferry ramp. We were soon enjoying Level Ground Trading  coffee and fresh pastries. Level Ground is a local company and their coffee is excellent.  If you have extra time, the Seahorse also rents kayaks.

 

 

The MV Klitsa is one of the smaller ferries in the BC Ferries fleet,  taking  about 30 vehicles on the forty minute ride.  There are a dozen or so walk-on passengers and a few cyclists as well. I’ve taken this route by bicycle a few years ago. It sure beats the Malahat. The ferry workers are friendly pair, chatting it up with  the passengers.  It’s a sunny day, and the crossing provides beautiful views. As we pass scenic Senanus Island,  I recall the many SCUBA dives I’ve made in the inlet. The marine life is considerably diminished from what it was years ago, development and over fishing taking their tolls. There’s a proposal for an LNG terminal in the inlet, but it’s  meeting stiff opposition. Fortunately, Senanus Island is part of the Tsartlip First Nation territory. An ancient burial ground, it’s considered sacred and will remain undeveloped.

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Enjoying the view

 

We arrived at Mill Bay feeling relaxed and unharried. We joined the Island Highway rat race – but only as far as the town of Chemainus. Time for lunch and to enjoy the murals.  Chemainus bills itself as ‘the village of murals’. They’re on walls everywhere, reflecting the history of the area. We discovered the Utopia Bakery Café, a block off the main street. It offers fresh breads, cakes, and pasteries and serves breakfast and lunch.  Prices very reasonable. I had a bowl of delicious cream of mushroom soup. It was meal in itself. It’s always a good sign when locals show up, and several came for lunch while we were enjoying ours. When tourism drops off during the winter months, locals are the mainstay so the food has to be good and reasonably priced. The Utopia scores high on both counts. The Utopia has a unique three dimensional  mural that depicts a  First Nations scene before the arrival of European traders and colonists.

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

Goodies at the Utopia

Goodies at the Utopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch and a  leisurely stroll down Chemainus’  picturesque main street, we continued our trip to Parksville. Instead of taking  Highway 1, the ‘new’ island highway, we took  1A, the original island highway. This route hugs the coast and offers stunning ocean views. Highway 1a joins highway 1  just before Ladysmith.

Next Post: Pacific Shores nature Resort and the Parksville area.

The White Limousine is now available in e-book format at KOBO ( http://www.kobo.com ).

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Bagpipes – an offensive weapon?

While an occasional few don’t fully appreciate the musical qualities of the bagpipes, I was amazed to discover that the bagpipes are the only musical instrument to have been considered a weapon of war.

April 16, 1746 was a watershed date in Scottish history. At the Battle of Culloden, seven thousand Jacobites armed with swords and daggers faced the muskets and cannons of the King of England’s  eight thousand man Hanoverian  army. On that day, one thousand Scots and three hundred Hanoverians died on Drummossie Moor.

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With the defeat of the Highland Army, the English proclaimed the Act of Proscription, which forbade wearing Tartan, speaking Gaelic, and playing bagpipes. Punishment could include lashes with the cat of nine tails and then imprisonment or worse, death.” http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=729

James Reid was among the many arrested. His lawyer argued that Reid had carried no weapon into battle  – only his pipes,but the judge disagreed, ruling that “a Highland regiment never marched without a piper, and therefore Reid’s bagpipes were an instrument of war.” Reid was hanged drawn and quartered.”http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/04/war-bagpipes-wiping-single-instrument-urban-map/1754/

But attempts to silence the pipes didn’t end with Culloden.The following are summarized from John Metcalfe’s April 13, 2012 article in CityLab. (http://www.citylab.com)

1999: An Edinburgh man launched a Campaign Against Bagpipes. Clive Hibberts and his friends police the city’s famed Royal Mile, picketing pipers.  The campaign ultimately fails. (His other campaign against kilts dies, too.)

2007: Ciaran Murtagh and Andrew Jones start the second Campaign Against Bagpipe, arguing: “They all sound the same. These tunes that bagpipers profess to play all sound equally bad. Where is the talent in that? Isn’t it time to make Scotland a quieter place?”  This campaign seems to have failed, too.

2008: In Oxford, piper Heath Richardson is banned from busking  after four hundred of the area’s shop owners signed a petition calling for his exile.

2008: Edinburgh’s ‘Bloody Bagpipe Crackdown’ Any bagpiper  blowing on the Royal Mile is threatened with arrest, and  buskers are forced to sign “acceptable behaviour contracts” Piper Shaun Cartwright, was arrested for causing “distress” to bystanders.

2011: Edinburgh passes another law forbidding business from playing bagpipe music from their sidewalk speakers.

2011: In New Zealand, Rugby World Cup officials declare the bagpipe unwelcome at future games. The instrument joins a list of banned items that includes flares and air horns. Sports broadcaster Miles Davis goes on record to say he’s behind the prohibition, because bagpipes sound like “a hyena caught in a gin trap” and are “as bad as the vuvuzela.”

2012, Vancouver, British Columbia.  The latest salvo in the War Against Bagpipes landed in Vancouver where the municipal code prohibited busking with drums or bagpipes. The city’s engineering department claimed pipers were interfering with its work.But on April 12, 2012 Mayor Gregor Robertson threw out the anti-pipe ordinance. “The clans won’t stand for it!”‬ he said.

 

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