Off to Beautiful Pacific Rim Park for the Summer

Always ready for Rain in BC

Always ready for Rain in BC

Tomorrow at sunrise, we’ll be on our way to BC. We plan to see as many people as we can. With family in almost every major city in Canada, our trip has been planned with great care.

At Pacific Rim Park, we will enjoy a special ceremony at Middle Beach Lodge, near Tofino with family and close friends.

I may post a few tidbits here and there to update family and friends.

We are very excited and may forgo sleep and head out in the dark to catch the sunrise.

Middle Beach near Tofino

Middle Beach near Tofino

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Does Race have a Face?

Sometimes events unfold and it is not apparent immediately, but there is a sense that something is not quite right. The picture is warbled and out of focus, but you just stream along. Then, there is clarity and everything comes into focus. Last Thursday was one of those times.

Andy and I were in Chibougamau to pick up the cat from the vet. We planned to stop at a restaurant recommended by one of his students for Chinese buffet. It was sunny and warm, and the sidewalks were teeming with people. We recognized several families from Mistissini. It was a beautiful evening with the promise of summer.

We found the restaurant and sat down at one of the few vacant tables. I checked the buffet, but it was quite meagre, understandable judging from the crowded restaurant. We decided to leave and find something else on the main strip.

“Look, a pub,”  I said, pointing it out to Andy.  “Let’s try that.”

Andy and I miss our “Stammkneipe”. This is a term Andy picked up when he was in Germany. It means a pub where regulars and friends meet.

In Pointe Claire Village, our Stammkneipe was Clydes. We had many warm, pub style meals, celebrations and events, and enjoyed the quirks of being VIP guests , receiving discounted meals on our birthdays. So this was just what we needed.

We parked nearby and entered the half empty pub. Two waitresses stood at the cash register and appeared occupied, so I looked around for an available table and started walking towards it, but one of the waitresses intercepted and said the tables were all reserved.

Reserved tables in a half empty pub? I look around and don’t see “reserved signs” on the tables.

“Nous ne serions pas longs”, I tell her in French. “Nous sommes ici juste pour une collation.”

She shrugged and indicated where we could sit. We had a tasty upscale bistro meal and a couple of Coors. We paid the bill and left to pick up our cat. On the way out, I noticed that the “reserved sections” were still empty. Who were they reserved for?

Today:  I came back from Chibougamau after dropping off the cat at an acquaintance’s house, who will be minding him for the summer.

I stopped at the cabinetmaking shop, as we were preparing for the season’s end BBQ for the students. I chat with one of Andy’s students, and mention that I just came back from Chibougamau. He told me some stories about Chibougamau. When he was a child, he said, he recalled walking with his mother and seeing signs in windows that read “No dogs or Indians.”  This must have been a while back since he had grown children. I am stunned hearing this. Isn’t this Canada?

Then it hit me. At that pub, in Chibougamau, the strangeness of it all. I realize now, what I didn’t realize then, that there were only non-natives at the pub, except for one, Andy, who is Cree.

Sharon’s Lasting Impressions of her Trip to Mistissini by Sharon (Guest Blogger)

A town's dog falls in love with Sharon - more photos found on link to Flickr down below

A town’s dog falls in love with Sharon – more photos found on link to Flickr down below

My daughter, Ariel, and I made the 1200+ km trip to Mistissini, Quebec to visit our friends; Andi and her husband, also Andy.

Andy had accepted a position in the Cree school board, teaching cabinetry. I was utterly thrilled for them both – what an incredible opportunity! To spend time in the Canadian north, living and learning the culture, language and traditions of the Cree people!

And, of course, yes, I would go up to visit them the first chance I had!

We left bright and early on a Saturday morning. I drove from Toronto to Quebec City, where we spent the evening exploring the sights of Old Quebec City before retiring to a small motel in the university district. The following morning, a quick tour of Montmorency Falls, then on to Mashteuiatsh near Roberval, where we met up with Andi. We stayed the night in an old hotel run by the congenial grandson of the original owner, Mr. Robertson – whose forebears were Scottish and who spoke not one word of English. We enjoyed his cooking in the morning, then packed the car and headed north.

Ariel and I were utterly enchanted by the rolling hills and sparkling lakes. We arrived, after three hours, in the modern little village of Mistissini, perched at the top of a long peninsula jutting into the southern end of Lake Mistassini.

We drove into a new development, built at the edge of town – and pulled into the driveway of a neat, contemporary house, set across the road from the lake.

Stepping out of the car to greet Andy, I knew I would like it in Mistissini. The air was crisp, redolent with the scent of spruce and pine smoke. Birds called to each other and sunlight glittered on the water.

We enjoyed a hearty meal prepared by Andy, then settled down with a steaming pot of tea, and chatted well into the night.

On Tuesday we rose early. I decided to accompany Andi on her morning walk – as we set out, we began to gather dogs, accumulating a small pack that strode along with us, veering off to investigate flashes of colour that darted in the underbrush, or tromp happily through small streams; always returning to us – our companions all the way out and back.

In the afternoon, we visited Andy’s class and met his students. They offered shy smiles when we were introduced. Some of them showed us their work – with quiet pride; well deserved – elegant carved feather boxes and complex designs of animals, flowers and landscapes executed in parquetry and inlay. Beautiful work.

Wednesday took us to Ouje-Bougoumou, a village about a half hour from Chibougamau. Andi was invited to write an article on the building maintenance program being run for adults. Ariel and I went to explore the village while Andi conducted her interview. I returned to take a few photos for her article – she wrapped up and we went to visit the cultural center/museum. It was very interesting.

On Thursday, we awoke to the sound of dogs barking. A lot of dogs.  Mistissini is truly the village of dogs. We took another walk, accompanied as usual by a canine entourage. One in particular, I took a great liking to – a small one-eyed Pomeranian – with the sweetest disposition you could imagine.

After our walk, we decided to drive out to Murray’s Lodge – a camp about 8 kms from the village, where Cree cultural activities take place – but it was closed as everything was in the process of being moved to the summer camp in Mistissini…still, it was quite interesting to walk around the site and look at the different buildings; Andi described the function of each structure – I tried to match it to the unique motif painted or embroidered on the door-cloth that covered each entrance. Some were quite clear – like the mittens and boots embroidered on the sewing lodge – others, not so much.

When I lifted one of the cloths aside, sun filtered through the canvas walls of the anteroom, illuminating wooden beams from which tools and animal hides dangled; cut logs laid in neat piles; and a floor carpeted with sweet-smelling fir and spruce boughs! I could imagine myself sitting in the lodge, maybe on a fur spread across the scented boughs, the warm golden glow of firelight dancing on canvas walls, listening to songs of long ago…

I was disappointed that we had come between events; I would have loved to have seen the crafts, listened to the stories, and tasted the much vaunted fry bread. But I enjoyed this quiet meander through the camp, and I could see Ariel did as well.

We went to see the beach after we left the lodge – it very neatly laid out and well maintained, with picnic tables, out-buildings, a swimming platform.  We were met by a tiny little dog in a bright red sweater. He was the exact colour of the sand; we figured the sweater helped keep him from melding completely with the beach. He was very happy to play with us for a while.

We returned to Mistissini in the mid-afternoon to begin cooking. After a most excellent Christmas-in-June dinner – triggered by a broken freezer and a beautiful turkey in danger of thaw; I went out to wander the town alone, and take photos of the fiery sunset. Standing alone at the edge of an inlet, my senses pushed into high gear – I was acutely aware of pine smoke, a chorus of frogs, dogs barking…and the vastness of the wilderness that surrounded me…it was…daunting, but my heart raced….

Friday morning dawned cold…this was our last day in town. We wanted to make the most of it. We drove to Chibougamau; walked around the beautiful Lake Gilman, identifying the plethora of plant life, insects and birds, and then visited the friendship centre where I purchased a beautiful handcrafted barrette (made by one of the local artisans from Mistissini). We returned home to start yet another sumptuous meal – moose stew with dumplings (Andi asked if I knew how to cook moose meat …why yes, I DO know how to cook moose meat!) and a delicious wild rice salad that Andi whipped up, made with toasted walnuts and dried blueberries.

It had been a week of pure wonder – of sharing wine, tea and quiet talks with my dear friends;  experiencing new places and new cultures; discovering plants we have never seen before and landscapes as beautiful and alien as a new world.

And it was quickly coming to an end.

I woke up early Saturday and packed the car, then I went out for a final walk. A group of dogs at my feet as I wandered the quiet streets. Everyone, it seemed, had been partying hard the night before, and the town felt oddly deserted.

I would miss this place very much – the clean crisp air; the dogs who seemed to belong to everyone and no one; the gentle voices and warm smiles of the people; the restful rhythm of a village in tune with its surroundings, responding not to the hours on the clock but to the changing of the seasons.

We had a two-day trip back to Toronto. We were reluctant to leave – not only two of my closest and dearest friends, but the village itself…

But I know we’ll be back again…the north, it calls to us….

** Sharon’s beautiful pictures of her trip to Mistissini can be found here:

Welcome to Mistissini!!

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A Bear! Do I Dare?

 

This is not a picture of the current bear, but one that I took en route to Pacific Rim Park last year

This is not a picture of the current bear, but one that I took en route to Pacific Rim Park last year

Almost hit a bear on the way back from a neighbouring community, where I was interviewing. At first I thought it was a big black wolf, but the colour was wrong. He was about to dart across the road, when he saw my car, and he quickly turned around and melted into the forest.  Hmmm … wonder if my visiting friends left their bear bells behind?

Do I dare go for my long wogs (walk/jog) along the road?

The Cat is Ours

Mikou has come to stay!

We were minding Mikou for his owner, who had to travel to Montreal for medical appointments and it was time to return him. I messaged the owner and mentioned how much I missed my cats. I also asked if her son was willing to give him up for adoption or sell him to me.

Immediate answer:  Sell!

Cats are not highly-regarded pets here. When I told one of Andy’s students that I wasn’t able to attend a cultural event at a local school because I had to take the cat to the vet, he rolled his eyes.

“Cat!” he scoffed. “Plastic bag, tie a knot and into the lake!”  He gestured how he would do this.

When I told one of Andy’s colleagues about the impending sterilization, he offered to perform the procedure … something to do with dental floss and elastic bands.

“No, thanks,” I told him. “I want the cat to hate the vet not me!”

Gunshots in the Dark

Summer has the town teeming with life; kids on bikes, toddlers playing in sandy front yards, toys abound. And teenagers after twilight … and it goes on all night.

At four this morning, what we thought were coyotes howling, were actually people. This went on for a while.

We were used to this weekend raucousness from our Pointe Claire Village days, where summer festivities and popular bars kept the village area alive until 4:00 a.m. When the bars closed, that’s when we would often hear groups of young people from local GEGEPS and Universities wander the streets, laughing and shouting.

But last night was different. We heard gunshots. Three of them, to be exact. One sounded like it was from a neighbouring home.

According to our landlord, who is a police inspector, shootings are not as common as stabbings and beatings. I have actually never seen a gun here. To retrieve a gun and load it, is not as instantaneous as grabbing a knife from the kitchen drawer.

I am sure we’ll hear what happened.  It’s a small town after all …

Visitors come North

There’re Here!

One of my oldest and dearest friends and her daughter drove from Toronto to spend a week visiting. I was concerned how to keep these sophisticated city women entertained. What could possibly interest them?

They came prepared, armed with Deep Woods Off and extra SPF suntan lotion, bear bells (!!) and good walking shoes. We wandered around town and I delighted in seeing the local sights through their eyes. They took pictures of everything. Every shrub (which I thought was just another shrub) and tree was identified and scrutinized. I learned to distinguish swallowtail butterflies from moths and learned that tamaracks are, indeed, larches.

Elder’s Point wasn’t operational for the summer yet, but we walked around Murray’s Lodge, which is abandoned for the summer and moved closer to town. I also saw “the Beach” for the first time. It was well-groomed, had tall lifeguard chairs and picnic tables with roofs for protection from the sun and rain.

The night before my friends had to return home, we had a scrumptious moose stew with dumplings and a wild rice salad. The day before, one of our freezers died, and we had to quickly amalgamate all frozen goods into one. There was little room for the large turkey left by our landlord, which he said we could have it, so we had Christmas dinner in June!

And we walked and talked and walked and talked some more and drank many pots of tea. The words flowed and so did the wine!  More visitors please!