The 31st Annual Courage Polar Bear Dip is happening 2pm January 1, 2016 at Coronation Park in Oakville, ON. www.polarbeardip.ca
The Interview: Brothers Todd (52) and Trent (48) Courage founded what is now Canada’s largest Polar Bear Dip for charity as a fun event thirty one years ago after ringing in the New Year with friends. Recovering and lazing about on the couch on New Year’s Day their Mom, Gaye, told them to “go jump in the lake” and they did! To date the Courage Polar Bear Dip has raised over 1.3 million dollars for the charity World Vision Canada (http://www.worldvision.ca/) to fund clean water projects around the world.
OurtownO recently interviewed Todd and Trent while they were busy setting up for this year’s Dip.
What do you eat for breakfast pre-dip on Jan. 1? Both simultaneously answer “Beer!” “No, in all honesty,” Trent says, “we stop and grab a Tim Horton’s coffee and muffin on our way to Coronation Park early on New Year’s Day morning.”
Party on December 31? Yes or No? “No” say the brothers in unison again. They add it is a quick “Happy New Year” to their families and off to bed at midnight. Trent explains, “our New Year’s Party is after the Polar Bear Dip at The Tin Cup” (the Oakville bar that hosts the post-dip celebrations).
Which brother is more “courageous” about going in the water on Jan.1 ? “It’s a toss up” according to Todd and Trent. But they both always go in. Trent says “the water temperature is relatively the same each year at around 3 degrees.” “One year it did go as low as 1 degree” Todd says, and that he describes, with a broad smile and laughter, as feeling like “needles stabbing your body and your chest caving in from the cold -that was the year that it was warmer to stay in the water than out!”
What word(s) come to mind when you first enter the water? Todd: “F***! and am I really doing this again!” Trent: ” Are you F****** kidding me and where did my kids go because you are always keeping an eye on them in the water.”
Best costume in 30 years of The Courage Polar Dip? Both brothers exuberantly recall past favourites like “the man who goes in the water each year as Father Time and comes out as Baby New Year -in the past few years he is just Baby New Year.” There is also The Polar Beers. A group of guys dressed up as a six pack. Gene Simmons was an excellent costume one year, says Trent. Todd names the Halton Police team The Copsicles, MP Pam Damoff’s team The Rockin’ Chillin Polar Bears and Team World Vision as not only having fun costumes but as excellent financial supporters of the event as well.
Joking aside, there is a serious fundraising component to the event: This year’s target is to raise $120,000 for a clean water project in Rugarama, Rwanda. 2016’s Dip is the start of a two year $250,000 fundraising goal to bring fresh water to a community of 8,149 people.
Can you tell OurtownO a little about the project? Water Is Life – Todd says those are the words sung and chanted by people when he and his brother went on a trip in 2009 (at their own expense) together with officials from World Vision to see first hand how their money was being used in Rwanda to support clean water projects. The brothers say the trip, the children, the people and the images will stay with them for a lifetime. “Water is Life” is what the locals repeatedly said to them.
• The incidence of water borne disease in the Rugarama district of Rwanda is high at 54 per cent.
• The under age 5 mortality rate in the area is well over 300 per 1,000 births.
• Providing access to safe water will reduce water borne illness, improve health throughout the community, increase productivity and allow children to attend school.
One word or so when you think of Canadians’ access to clean water? Trent: “Incredibly fortunate” Todd: “We think, as Canadians, because we for the most part only know clean water, we think that is the way it is for everyone…unfortunately it’s not.”
The Courage Polar Bear Dip has become a multi-generational affair. The brother’s Mom, Gaye, participated in the first dip and still goes in some years. This year, Trent’s wife is going to make her inaugural dip. Each brother has three children and they (and their friends) not only participate in the dip, but volunteer at the event as well. Todd’s 18 year old son Sean was down at the lake helping with event set up on the day of this interview. He says, “This is the year to do the Dip…there is no snow or ice on the ground…it’s warmer outside than most years.” “This is the year!” the next generation repeats energetically with a big grin on his face!!
Link to Todd and Trent’s 2009 trip with World Vision to Rwanda
Happy New Year to all OurtownO readers!
Thompson is a self-described “observer”. He tells me he always “has a narrative running in his head. If an image or idea stays with me I usually draw or paint it…sometimes I see something but then it is gone…so it does not become something I re-create.”
“Rain on Mount Nemo”, by long time Oakville resident and highly acclaimed Canadian artist, Michael Thompson. Acrylic on Linen, 40 x 60 in. “Rain on Mount Nemo” is a breathtaking landscape painting that www.ourtowno.ca thinks belongs in the collection of paintings forming the Halton Healthcare Art and Healing Program at the new Oakville Hospital. The Art and Healing Program is an amazing program founded on the principles that “art provides comfort, inspiration and joy…“.https://www.haltonhealthcare.on.ca/…/new-o…/art-council.html . If you are an Art donor or know someone who is please consider this magnificent work of art. It belongs in a public space in Oakville for all to enjoy. Contact www.godardgallery.com for more info. This work of art, if donated is 100% tax receiptable.Michael Thompson is ceritfied under the Canadian Heritage Art and Cultural donation program http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1346101874732/1346102605517
Let’s make this happen. #OakvilleArt #OakvilleHospital #Healingplace
Have you ever been invited inside the studio of a great Canadian artist? Someone mentioned in the same breath as renowned Canadian realist artists Alex Colville, Mary Pratt, and Jack Chambers. Michael Thompson is a member of this elite group and has called the bucolic tree lined streets of Oakville home for the past 32 years. He recently invited me into his Oakville studio. Thompson says Oakville “is a beautiful place…where I withdraw and reflect while creating art”. However it is the urban streets of Toronto, Montreal, New York (especially Coney Island), Paris, and Berlin that predominately form the subject matter for his art. Specifically, “The crowded pubs and cafes or the lesser travelled back streets of these cities” are what capture his imagination and engage his mind in creating art – Michael Thompson’s realist art.
Toronto’s The Junction neighbourhood is a current favourite haunt of Thompson. The creative process begins by exploring an urban area and photographing its buildings, streetscapes, automobiles, cafes/pubs, and people. Copious notes are then made about setting, lighting, and subject matter. At home in the comfort of his Oakville studio he creates his iconic realist works of art. Thompson reminds me that Oakville is not the inspiration for the mostly gritty urban subject matter of his art.
Thompson’s studio is a spacious room attached to his home in the leafy historic area of Oakville . During my visit he describes and demonstrates visual examples of his creative process. Generously left out on the drawing table is a current work in progress for viewing (it is not his habit to leave work in progress out on display). Thompson also shares the accompanying sketch for the current work on the drawing table. The sketch lays out precisely detailed measurements and dimensions for the composition . Notes in pencil to himself are written around the border of the sketch. More written notes are close at hand and are referenced while working. There is a black and white photograph taken by Thompson that that is also using as part of the creative process. Thompson’s art is measured, purposeful, and planned.
Elsewhere in the studio an entire wall is covered with a large cork board. The cork board displays photographs, ideas, and images; some taken from the pages of magazines. Other inspiration comes from the art of fellow Canadian artists such as Alex Colville, Ken Danby, and Tom Forrestall all of whom he has known personally. He names American artists that he has studied – Andrew Wyeth and in particular Edward Hopper’s ‘urban psychology’ as being important in his development as an artist. “You get their books and pore over them.” On nearby side tables are acrylic paints and drawing pencils 6H-2B all neatly laid out (erasers too). A painting easel is stored in the studio as well.
Self confession: I was obsessed with asking Thompson about the light in his studio. I had a romantic belief that an artist’s studio was flooded with natural light from skylights and large windows. This is not so in Thompson’s studio. Thompson’s art is created under incandescent light – thus the natural light in the studio is not significant to creating his art. Adjustable halogen ceiling lights (mostly used for lighting when painting) and a drafting style light clamped to the drawing table are the main lighting fixtures in the studio. The photographs and notes taken at the time the image is captured form the reference point for the light in the work. As he says “the large window in the studio is more for my (his) pleasure rather than necessary for working”.
Michael Thompson is currently working on a self imposed schedule of two years of drawing followed by two years of painting although there is “some random fluidity” to this structure, he says. Michael Thompson Drawing was the recent sold out show at Toronto’s Mira Godard Gallery October 17 – November 7, 2015. Another show (paintings) is planned for 2017 at Mira Godard. I mentioned a particular drawing I admired in the recent show and Thompson says “stay tuned”. A drawing he says is frequently “the dress rehearsal” for the painting.
Featured in the recent show is a small still life (Café Still Life) depicting a diner style cup and saucer. The work is so expertly drawn in pencil that it actually resembles the sheen of china. I ask him (again referring to the recent show ) “how do you draw leather pants to actually look incredibly like leather?” He modestly tells me these techniques are self-taught. Viewing Michael Thompson’s art in person is a revelatory experience. Photographs in books and images posted online of his art (while of very high quality) are merely a cheater’s substitute to viewing the art in person. The result of his meticulous-patient-creative process is a work of art that reflects the superior skills and craftsmanship of a great artist.
“Queen Street Sunrise” a drawing from the recent show is an excellent example of Thompson’s intentionally distilled and intricate style of art. “Queen Street Sunrise is a study in light at a time of day… the sun is low in the sky…the colours on the buildings” he says. “It is also a sociological study more about what you don’t see.” Thompson further describes “Queen Street Sunrise” as “the sun is coming up all over the city, Queen St. and Rosedale all at the same time …it is an equalizer” and this is an idea that he finds intriguing possibly because of his working class east end Montreal upbringing.
In the recent show, the model “Anna” appears in numerous works. When asked about “Anna” Thompson says, “Anna’s beauty is intrinsic…her power is magical.” Thompson has used other youthful models in past works and shows- Jenn, Jocelyn, Melissa, and Caitlin to name a few. He says there is “an energy in youth” that he is captivated by. Thompson recently celebrated his 60th Birthday. “One day I looked at my hands and realized to myself that I suddenly looked old.” “Youth” – he says ignites his imagination especially as he feels and observes himself aging.
Solo rides on his beloved (now sold) motorcycle was, until recently, a favourite pastime. Thompson shows me a photograph of his motorcycle framed and hanging on the studio wall. He vividly retraces his regular ride just north of Oakville along Tremaine Road; then riding further west under the shadow of Mount Nemo (the ancient rock formation that is part of the Niagara escarpment). Thompson has atypically used this beautiful country landscape as the subject of a magnificent acrylic on canvas piece entitled “Rain on Mount Nemo” currently on display/sale at Mira Godard.
Illumination of the contrasts in Thompson the artist adds curious insight to viewing his art. For me, Michael Thompson’s art reflects themes such as what is seen/not seen in a work of art; explorations of youth versus the artists own aging; and the predominately urban subject matter depicted in a work of art which is created in an idyllic Oakville home studio. These contrasting themes together with knowledge of the artists creative process contribute much to appreciating the art of Michael Thompson.
As an artist, Thompson has a highly disciplined schedule working contently in his studio Monday to Friday 8-5. NPR or a favourite jazz station is often times tuned in on the radio. Earlier in his career, before he was married and had a family, he put in regular 12 hour days in the studio. He jokingly says, “he has never worked a day in his life”, but quickly injects that for him creating art is “not spontaneous…you can’t just get an idea and then go the same day and make a painting.” He needs to be in the studio working every day. This discipline has resulted in an almost four decade long career as an artist. Works by Michael Thompson are found in major public, corporate, and private collections throughout North America.
He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with two Fine Arts degrees, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1976 followed by a Graduate Degree in Fine Arts in 1978. He has worked full time as an artist ever since.”Going to art school in the seventies was all about being taught by abstract artists.” His realism style of art was an “anomaly” at the time he was in art school.
Framed in Thompson’s studio is a sweet child’s sketch that Michael drew when he was 18 months old. The drawing is a sentimental reminder of growing up as an only child in Montreal. His mother used to give him the blank cardboard inserts from boxes of Shredded Wheat cereal to use as drawing paper. As a young child then as a teenager he drew and drew. If he was ever disciplined by his parents and sent to his room for an hour, he frequently chose to stay long after the hour had passed, happy to draw endlessly.
Thompson is a self-described “observer”. He tells me he always “has a narrative running in his head. If an image or idea stays with me I usually draw or paint it…sometimes I see something but then it is gone…so it does not become something I re-create.” “My art is a distilled orchestration and altering of what is going on inside my head…there is nothing objective about the world and my art is my highly subjective interpretation of the world” says Thompson. Then there is the catalogue cover from the recent Mira Godard show – an Autoportrait drawing entitled “Priest“. Stay tuned.
I live in an artists colony in O. Not suprising as O. is such a beautiful place nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario. Pathways wind along the lake sheltered by willow trees whose long mane-like branches and massive trunks straddle and blur the boundary between parkland and private gardens. In a lakeside park an old fashioned bandshell is the site of concerts for events such as the annual “Mayor’s Picnic”. On other days children play make believe castle in it while adults enjoy the view and seek shelter from sun and rain. Manicured green spaces like the former “village green” of historic Old O. were long ago transformed into their current use as the Oakville Lawn Bowling Club which is enclosed by a white picket fence.
Large Maple and Oak trees form canopies across roadways creating welcome shade from the summer sun and serving as overpasses for busy squirrels. Sailboats, kayaks, and canoes float in Sixteen Mile Creek. Olympians practice their paddling in the creek for future competitions. Come winter the creek freezes and skaters, skiers, and snowshoers make their tracks beside animal prints on the frozen snow covered creek. This is O; a place of stunning beauty that many artists call home.
Don Morrison an Oakville resident and an acclaimed artist appreciates the natural beauty of O. and elsewhere. Mary Lennox Hourd the renowned Canadian portrait artist and Michael Thompson one of Canada’s leading realist artists also reside here. There is a vibrant artist community in O. One can only guess they were drawn to this once small town and now almost city-size suburb for reasons of water, light, space, nature and history which define the origins of O.
Artist Don Morrison discovered a passion for art as a child. We recently spent a morning together. We chatted about art. Don painted. It was magical. Don started painting his watercolours on canoe trips. He quickly asked me if I had a credit card and traced the outline of the card on his preferred 300lb “arches rough” paper that he paints on.
As a young man on his frequent canoe trips, where gear is kept light and artist’s supplies minimal, Don began bringing these small size paper shapes on trips to use for his sketching and painting. His art has grown from this simple form to a lifetime love of painting and creating. He has been an artist in residence at the McMichael Gallery, taught numerous art classes and holds an annual art show of his work.
When Don paints in nature he paddles solo into the lake or sits quietly on a rock and captures a scene from a remote spot. His watercolours are images from trips to the interior of Algonquin Park, the shores and islands of Georgian Bay, The West Coast of Vancouver Island, and The Nahanni River to name a few.
As we talked Don sketched a scene and started creating a painting . He talked of visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario as a child. Don was in awe of and remembers well the overwhelming impression of a Van Gogh exhibit at the AGO. He says, “Van Gogh’s body of work, the intensity of the paintings and how the theme and style were evident throughout all of Van Gogh’s paintings” captured his attention and imagination. He names the Group of Seven artists as amongst his favourites. American Andrew Wyeth is another artist he holds in high regard.
Don says when he paints, “it is like the holiday that keeps on giving”. He sometimes paints a scene from a wilderness trip when he is back in O. recalling a lake from a recent Algonquin Park trip and painting it from memory, “It gives me pleasure to revisit a scene in my mind and paint it – transporting me back to the place as I paint”. On trips, “I paint in the quiet of the early morning light” before fellow campers are out of their sleeping bags and tents. “My art is a souvenir from a remote location and gives me great enjoyment”. “I also paint in the early evening as the sun is setting” like he did on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He recalls the “evening mist” created by the ocean set against the densely forested coastline.
Don paints in watercolour. Watercolours are very unforgiving. An artist cannot go back and paint over a mistake in watercolours as one can in oils. There is a ” glow and transparency” that Don finds very appealing by painting in watercolour. He is able to capture the “light” as he sees it. As the interview continues Don is creating a piece of art before my eyes.
Don names local O. and surrounding spots where he and others have gone to paint. Cross Avenue and the 16 Mile Creek or Lions’ Valley come to mind. The Bruce Trail and Hilton Falls are also favourite painting locations. He has painted in groups where one discusses a painting with fellow artists as the work is being created, sharing suggestions and ideas. Don is a member of the Oakville Art Society. We talk about the Oakville art scene. Art exhibits and classes are flourishing at the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre. He says the Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre on Burnhamthorpe Rd. is a must visit place.
As he paints I share my own love of nature. We discuss a nearby path down into the creek. Our shared sense of adventure.
As the conversation draws to a close the small watercolour that Don has been creating is placed beside a finished and framed piece of Don’s. I am in awe of his artistry and skill.
Don Morrison is holding his annual art show “Mostly Minatures”, at Sovereign House in Bronte, 7 West River Street, Bronte Village on Sunday December 1 from 1-5pm. Illustrated talks at 2pm and 4pm. Everyone is welcome.
I am back! After two whole months of summer fun…cottage, cottage friends, boats, cook-outs, sailing, swimming, sitting on warm rocks beside the waters of Georgian Bay, summer camp, care-packages, summer jobs for the older kids, tennis lessons, outdoor summer concerts, rugby games, endless drives to rugby pitches, lakeside lobster dinners, summer bbq dinners, summer visitors, University prep, and back to school shopping…it is now back to blogging! A longish post filled with the warm days of summer that will soothe the senses as we move into the seasons ahead.
In summer it is the amazing amount of carefree fun us adults get to have! The kids are happy, easily fed, and sleep well from a day spent outdoors in action packed play under the summer sun. Sun drenched and happy we all are. This summer I re-discovered the fun of lawn games at a dinner party and at the Briars Resort. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Games lubricate the mind and the body.”
The fabulous dinner party in O. started with a game of croquet (wonderfully improvised on a gently sloping lawn). With a soothing gin and tonic or chilled glasses of wine in hand the evening started…
A crisp linen tablecloth and croquet mallets await the arrival of the guests
“The garden bar”…G&T or V&T Anyone?
Chilled white wine! Delicious!
The long SLOPING croquet lawn
The garden party hosts are emphatic that croquet can be played on terrain that is vastly untraditional i.e. does not have to be played on a flat closely cut grass “croquet lawn”. The hosts have been inventing new ways to play croquet on sloping lawns and rocky cottage properties for years! Home field advantage for the hosts some may say…but more of a laughter filled way to start a summer party.
FYI: Croquet was introduced to Britain from France during the reign of Charles II of England, and was played under the name of paille-maille or pall mall, derived ultimately from Latin words for “ball and mallet“. This was the explanation given in the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, dated 1877. In his 1810 book entitled The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, Joseph Strutt describes the way pall mall was played in England in the early 17th century: “Pale-maille is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins. It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is one at either end of the alley. The game of mall was a fashionable amusement in the reign of Charles the Second, and the walk in Saint James’s Park, now called the Mall, received its name from having been appropriated to the purpose of playing at mall, where Charles himself and his courtiers frequently exercised themselves in the practice of this pastime.” Wikipedia.
Just in case you were wondering about the history of the game!
Smoked Trout Pate and Leslie Stowe Raincrisp Crackers served with a vintage embellished trout knife
Smoked trout products are from http://www.milfordbaytroutfarm.com. Products are available locally at Jubilee Fruit Market on Allen St. in Oakville. Wonderfully paired with Leslie Stowe Raincrisp Crackers (Leslie is a childhood resident of Oakville now based in Vancouver) also available at the Jubilee Market.
A colourful group of guests in the garden
Other garden beauties!
And feline friends named “Mabel”
Beautiful freshly picked summer garden flowers
Indoor picnic inspired dinner table
Chilled wine = THE taste of summer!
The “cedar planked” salmon draws a small flame as it cooks on the bbq…yes the planks were well soaked in water in advance!
Yummy salmon ready to be served
Spectacular and colourful roasted Veg
Spicy tomato and garden herb salad
The hosts charming collection of British-royal-family egg cups. Given as a gift, to the hosts family, from renowned British doctor and comedian Dr. Rob Buckman.
Robert Alexander Amiel “Rob” Buckman (August 22, 1948 – October 9, 2011) was a British–Canadian doctor of medicine, comedian and author, and president of the Humanist Association of Canada. He first appeared in a Cambridge University Footlights Revue in 1968, and subsequently presented several television and radio programmes about medicine, as well as appearing on comedy programmes such as Just a Minute. He was also the author of many popular books on medicine. Wikipedia.
Local strawberries are the inspiration for individual strawberry shortcakes…even the biscuits were homemade!
After dinner drinks and dancing under the patio lights in “the grotto” – intimate lower level patio.
A fire and relaxation after the exuberant game of croquet which began the evening!
As the summer night darkens the fire and fireflies add playful lighting to the late evening conversation and laughter….aahhh a warm summer’s night enjoyed outdoors!
More re-discovery of summer lawn games was had at the Gatsby-esque Briars Resort on Lake Simcoe, Jackson’s Point Ontario
Nine hole frisbee golf on the beautiful lawns of the Briars Resort
Teeing-off or how would you say that in frisbee golf ? “I can’t throw a frisbee !”
Touching “the pole” same as “sinking a putt”
Challenging hole locations in the woods
And near garden gates
“Ladder Ball” a lawn game new to me this summer, but not to others in lawn-game-know.
You score by standing at a distance and tossing a double ended golf ball weighted rope at “the ladder”. Points are scored for each toss.
An old fashioned open aired tennis pavilion at the Briars.
Watching tennis from the the tennis pavilion and imaging lawn tennis courts of past.
Freshly cut lawn badminton courts at The Briars
Of course there is a croquet lawn at the Briars which also doubles as a Bocce Ball Court.
Bocce ball is the lawn game that is enjoying the biggest revival today. Derived originally from the the ancient game of Bowls played during the time of the Roman Empire. Developed into its present form in Italy. It is played all over Europe and in North America.
Backyards in Canada and the U.S. are being designed with backyard Bocce Ball courts as part of the landscape plan.
Like this one!
And this one too!
Union Hall, a Bar in Park Slope Brooklyn has super cool indoor Bocce Courts http://unionhallny.com
An indoor Bocce Court at Floyd NY . Check it out at http://floydny.com
There IS hope for winter indoor fun!!! Please take note hip Oakville and Toronto Bar owners.
My brother-in-law, award-winning writer, Alec Scott, was born in Oakville, ON and now lives in Oakland, California. Alec has generously written this Fourth of July celebratory guest blog post for OurTownO. Enjoy, Alix xx
My family has deep roots both in Canada and the U.S. We were Anglos in the pulp and paper business in Quebec; Welshmen and women who emigrated to coal country in Pennsylvania.
My two brothers, sister and I were born and brought up outside Toronto, in Oakville, but our American mother registered each of us at birth with the American consulate, giving us the right to take up U.S. citizenship if we wanted. (The story was that American citizenship, like Jewishness, passed automatically through the female line, but it was harder to obtain via an American father – they didn’t want to extend citizenship to every GI’s love-child.) As kids, we learned the ringing Gettysburg Address, on long car trips we sang cheesy numbers from the American song-book – “Sioux City Sue”, a particularly fun and terrible song. One of the biggest parties we’d have each year was on the Fourth – red-white-and-blue garb, straw boaters, Old Glory flying, croquet on the lawn in the backyard. One year on Independence Day, an American eagle flew down and posed briefly on a stump in the yard.
For all the conspicuous advantages of growing up in Oakville, I was one of those elsewhere kids – life must be bolder, more vibrant somewhere else. In part, this was because I realized early I was gay, and the pretty, family-oriented world of Oakville, it had no place then for that sort of unconventionality.
When we were very young, we made frequent visits to our grandparents’ well-appointed home in Montclair, New Jersey. From a hill in that town, you could see, on a clear day, gleaming Manhattan, and at night, the illuminated skyscapers beckoned. After a certain age, that sleepless city became my dream destination – I liked the line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby describing its allure: “the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.”
Yes, the country to the south felt more racy, more adventurous – a nation whose very Constitution encouraged citizens to pursue happiness, to value, above most other things, their liberty. Our British North America Act, by contrast, promoted boring peace, order, good government. All worthy, important things, but far from sexy.
Of course, we’re this weird yin and yang on this continent, two halves of a whole, the Loyalists who fled the U.S. revolution setting the risk-averse tone for English Canada, and the revolutionaries, the let’s-start-from-scratch folks ruling the roost in post-1776 America.
One of our best 4th parties growing up was in the Bicentennial year, 1976, at a rickety house we’d rent each summer in Brockville, on a bay off the St. Lawrence River. It’s maybe too far a reach to say I can still taste the strawberries, yogurt and brown sugar, that we served on the lawn, but it was certainly memorable. And the fireworks across the vast river were spectacular. I was quite young, but I also remember the lovely book the Canadian government put together to celebrate the Bicentennial – Between Friends/Entre Amis – with photos of sites along the longest unprotected border in the world, the towns where half the amenities were on one side, the rest on the other, and whose locals went to and fro with impunity.
It wasn’t just the glamour, the wealth and its trappings, that appealed to me about the U.S. It was the spirit of progressivism, the Civil Rights movement, Stonewall, and what Elton John called the Philadelphia Freedom – those are the things I loved about America, the things I still love.
I eventually went to a Fitzgeraldy college in the U.S., to Dartmouth, and I’ve lived on either side of the border for much of my life – three-quarters of it in Canada, one quarter in the U.S. Now, my partner and I share a bungalow in Oakland, across the bay from another favorite U.S. city, San Francisco.
What is interesting to me these days, is how staid little Canada has leapt ahead in certain regards. The small-c conservatism that the Loyalists brought with them kept the banks from taking too big a bath in the last downturn.
And this past weekend in San Francisco was Pride Weekend – a weekend made joyful for many by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one striking down a federal anti-gay marriage law, the other allowing same-sex weddings to resume in California.
Of course, with relatively little fanfare, Canada has integrated its military, enacted gay marriage, protected employees from being fired for their sexual orientation. (In many jurisdictions in the U.S. one can still be fired for being gay.) Much of this happened through the Canadian courts, giving teeth to Trudeau’s great Charter of Rights and Freedoms – and, for many Canadians, it all feels sort of ho-hum now.
But I hope this doesn’t seem the typical Canadian attitude of superiority towards the nation to the south. Without Stonewall, gay liberation wouldn’t have come so far in Canada; without the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, without many of the discourse-altering decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, there would be no Canadian Charter of Rights, and yes, Freedoms; our strong Supreme Court would have no model.
I think both countries are lucky to share the continent with each other. To provide another model for doing things – to measure each other. Although the border has become much more regulated in the wake of 9/11, it’s still relatively porous – and our citizens can learn much from each other. We’re tied by history, and geography together, yoked together really. Neither country has done well on certain issues – the treatment of natives both south and north of the border, an ongoing scandal. But both fought hard on the right side of things, in the two World Wars last century.
It’s a complicated thing being the world’s preeminent nation. The decisions it makes, for good and for ill, they affect nearly everyone. Millions have been detrimentally affected by decisions taken in Washington – without getting into the merits of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the civilians who died there — the decisions in D.C. resulted in those deaths. But millions have also reaped benefits from U.S. policy, from its aid programs, from the haven it often, but not invariably, offered to the world’s oppressed. America’s resistance to communism, the example it has set for the world – I am proud to be American. And proud also, increasingly, to be Canadian.
And so, the time between the two national celebrations, between what I persist in calling Dominion Day and the Fourth is a rich and festive time in our house. The old Bicentennial coffee-table book title nails it: this is the time Between Friends/Entre Amis. To my American friends, I say Happy Canada Day! (Explaining Dominion Day to them is too much.) And to my Canadian friends, I say Happy Fourth of July!
The front door to our 1907 Oakland bungalow, built just after the great earthquake of 1906.
Our back door and entrance to the garden. Hens raised by our neighbours cluck. Skunks and possom live here. And, most amazing to a northerner, a lemon tree.
This is the rose-filled garden behind our century-old Oakland bungalow where we’ll be celebrating both Canada Day and the Fourth.
There is a great Canadian book by W.O. Mitchell called Roses are Difficult Here. In California, by contrast, roses are not difficult. This is a fragrant “Cornelia” in our Oakland back yard.
“Graham Thomas” Roses
My beau is car-obsessed — and we have six old ones, four Benzes, two Citroëns. This is the little 2-CV — many driving lawnmowers have more power. A couple of years ago, we drove it the length of California, including along a beach where cars are allowed. The pony-riders towered over us.
Edith (named for Piaf) with the Gibraltar of the Pacific — the giant rock at Morro Bay
Edith in Big Sur
I wrote about an American icon, the Golden Gate bridge for the Globe on the occasion of the suspension bridge’s 75th. And I took some shots for the paper. It always moves me that the bridge was built at the height of the Depression, that even in those depths they could find the gumption, the money, and vision, to build something this grand and useful.
Near the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Presidio is a graveyard with hundreds of white headstones, marking the U.S. deaths in every war from the Civil War on.
From an old graveyard in Vermont that I recently visited.
For more about Alec please visit:
– Pierre Trudeau
My Canada is engraved Haida Jewellery, Cape Dorset Prints, Andrew Rucklidge Paintings and Scott Barnim Pottery. Purdy’s chocolates, Burrowing Owl Wine, and freshly shucked oysters. My ipod playlist includes Serena Ryder, Arcade Fire, Blue Rodeo, and Sarah McLachlan. Growing up in Vancouver B.C. and summers spent in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, I was mesmerized by the art of Emily Carr and captivated by (and eventually lived my version of) B.C.’s Muriel Wylie Blanchet’s memoir, The Curve of Time.
I did not navigate the coast of British Columbia by boat like Muriel Blanchet and her five children, but I did take myself and my four very young children for a month to a remote-off-the-grid-boat-access only cottage on Georgian Bay. I charged the solar batteries and changed the propane tanks. I baked homemade bread, brownies and boiled endless amounts of hot water to wash the dishes in. I cooked recipe’s from Vancouver’s famous Fourth Avenue restaurateur, John Bishop’s book, “Cooking at My House”.
During that “Curve of Time” summer on Georgian Bay we survived a tornado, swam and paddled all day in the warm water, and travelled around in a tin boat with a 15 hp motor on the back. We were blissfully unaware of the bears roaming in the bush behind the cottage and watched quietly as deer grazed on wild rice in front of the cottage. We listened daily to the award winning CBC radio drama “Afghanada” and also for weather updates on our small solar powered MEC radio. The weather in Canada, as everyone knows, is as changeable as Don Cherry’s suits.
Canada is best not watched through a window but out in it! On its oceans of saltwater and tides, warm lakes, and mighty rivers and rapids. We as Canadians are all united through our love of the land and our experiences on it. My brother, has sailed numerous times, in the Annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race off Vancouver Island in the treacherous waters of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.My friend from Saskatchewan spent her childhood summers, on her family farm, playing “Little House on the Prairie” games in the coulees of the prairies. My son, has paddled a canoe from northern Ontario to the shores of James Bay and taken a freight train home again. Last year, a friend’s University aged son, rode his bike with his friend across the country from Toronto to Vancouver raising over $250,000 for prostate cancer research while riding in honour of his Dad. I have twice laced up my running shoes and run in the annual Cabot Trail Running Relay on the coast of Cape Breton.
My Canada is probably no different than your Canada. We have all met other Canadians whose lives have intersected with ours setting us off in another trajectory experiencing another aspect of this great land of ours. I once naively thought all potatoes only came from Idaho and the best peaches and cherries were exclusive to B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. Then I moved in my twenties with my then boyfriend (now husband) to Ontario and found out differently.
Prior to my move to Ontario, my only experience with syrup, was only that of B.C. ‘s Roger’s Golden Syrup. One day, a friend who grew up in Quebec arrived at my house in Oakville with a case of cans of freshly packed Quebec maple syrup. Here began my experience of sugar shacks, Reveillon (a long midnight party celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve), and Saint Jean Baptiste Day (Annual Quebec National Holiday on June 24th). With two children registered to attend University in Quebec this fall my knowledge of La Belle Province is about to deepen. How typical of life in Canada…always a new region or culture to explore and experience.
I have met and befriended new Canadians from Ghana, Poland, India, South Africa, Bermuda, Britain, Holland, the Phillipines, Italy, Portugal, Columbia, Russia, Ireland, Greece, Japan and China. As I write this list I realize how many of these people I know well and how seamlessly (although inwardly for them I am sure this is not always the reality) they have merged their cultures with a new life in Canada.
This is OUR Canada. Part multi-cultural urban centers and even larger part vast areas of uninhabited (by people) stunningly beautiful wilderness. It was the first nations people who first settled this part of the world. Oakville’s Emma and Julia Mogus at www.bookswithnobounds.com are bringing awareness to the need for greater support educating the youth in our first nations communities. This is what we do as Canadians. We look after and support one another. Raising money for new hospitals and other good projects in our communities. Together we cheer on our shared heroes such as the iconic Terry Fox and hope for a brighter future for ALL Canadians.
We have connected as Canadians today, Canada Day July 1, sharing on this blog our photographic reflection of Canada. OUR Canada. Celebrate. This Land. True North. Strong. And Free.
Muskoka, Ontario 8:20am
Muskoka, Ontario 8:20am
Go Home Bay, Georgian Bay
Ashbridges Bay, Toronto, Ontario
Thunder Bay, Ontario Terry Fox Memorial 4:20pm
Bronte Harbour, Oakville Ontario 4:05pm
Thornbury, Ontario 2:00pm
Thornbury, Ontario 2:00pm
South Surrey, B.C.
Oakville, Ontario 2:00pm
White Rock, B.C.
Locarno Beach, Vancouver B.C.
Top of Mt. Seymour, North Vancouver B.C.
Bennett’s Bay, Ontario
Lawn bowling, Ladner, B.C.
near Halifax, Nova Scotia
Squid Fishing, near Halifax Nova Scotia
near Halifax, Nova Scotia
near Halifax, Nova Scotia
Lake of the Woods, Ontario
Lake of the Woods, Ontario
Twelve Mile Bay, Georgian Bay, Ontario
Sixteen Mile Creek, Oakville, Ontario
Lake Joseph, Muskoka, Ontario 4:00pm
Camp Hurontario, Georgian Bay, Ontario
Camp Hurontario, Georgian Bay, Ontario
Lake Vernon, near Huntsville, Ontario
Canada Day Fireworks, July 1 2013, Lake of the Woods, Ontario
Thank you to ALL of my friends and family across the country for being part of this Canada Day Celebration!!!
p.s. Stay tuned July 4th when American-Canadian, Award winning writer, Alec Scott (and my brother-in-law) is the guest-blogger on Independence Day in the U.S.A.
Our family, has been steeped in Grade 12 Graduation activities and events for the entire month of June. As the iconic peonies of June bloomed in great proliferation this past month…so too did the closings, achievements, and celebrations of my son’s first 13 years of formal education.
Everywhere this past month, graduates of the Class of 2013 have been celebrating everything from their first year of pre-school graduation-to-grade 6 graduation-to-grade 8 graduation-to-grade 12 graduation and of course university graduation too. My facebook has been gloriously decorated with pictures and words depicting graduation milestones. As parents and family supporters we have clapped with enthusiasm and love for students in cap and gown from toddlers to teenagers to twenty something year olds who ALL have the future in front of them… ready for them to embrace… and make their own.
A complex mix of tears, laughter, relief, accomplishment and joy have burbled in the hearts of my husband and I as we moved through the graduation month of June. It all culminated when our son’s formal graduation event took place at his high school this past week. As each student crossed the stage to receive their diploma, on the warm June evening, we remembered how so many of the familiar names and faces have defined and shaped “our own graduate’s” school life.
Across the stage marched: “first-kiss”, “hockey-friend,”cross-country teammate”, “school-bully”,”best-friend”, “new-friend”, “prom-date”, “gr.9 band-partner”, “homework-helper”, “kindergarten-friend”. There was even the “turn-around” graduate, the “Grade 9 drug dealer”, who was now graduating with academic honours, a business specialist certificate and a high skills major certificate = smart kid who figured out how to re-direct his energy and business acumen…one hopes!
The month long graduation hoopla gets into your head and you find yourself reading the newspaper articles and other media sources which highlight this graduation time of year. Celebrities,politicians and important business leaders give speeches at high profile Universities and some of them have valuable things to say to the graduating class of 2013.
On May 29th, 2013 entrpreneur and television personality, Oprah Winfrey, gave a commencement address at Harvard University prior to receiving her own honourary doctorate of humane letters from Harvard. Oprah’s back story is extraordinary and must be repeated for its massive achievement. She was a poor black girl from the deep south of Mississippi who has risen as a television personality into a billionaire business leader and philanthropist overcoming all odds to accomplish this.
Oprah’s commencement address to the 362nd graduating class of Harvard University had important lessons meant for them, but also useful in our own lives, and to be shared with our own graduates. The following are five of the most important lessons created as Winfrey says to “banish the darkness with light and seek positivity.”
1.Max Out Your Humanity
Winfrey advised graduates instead of taking on debt overload to rather “fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being.” Oprah encouraged graduating students to come alive because the world needs us to be our full selves so we can evoke change.
“No matter what challenges or encounters you face, you will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal and that is this, to fulfill the highest most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up, your family, and the people around you.”
2.Create Your Own Story
“The challenge of life, I have found, is to build a resume that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but it’s a story about who you want to be. It doesn’t just tell a story about what you want to be but why. A story that’s not just a collection of titles, and positions, but a story that’s really about your purpose. When you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole, that is the story that will get you out. What is your true calling, what is your dharma, your true purpose.”
Maya Angelou always says, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” That is what makes your story great.
3.You Will Fall, But Failure Doesn’t Exist
“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise, at some point you are bound to stumble. If you are constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you are constantly pushing yourself higher, the law of average predicts that you will at some point fall. When you do, remember this: there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. When you are down there in the hole, it looks like failure.”
Winfrey’s OWN [her television network] was considered an initial failure in its first few quarters. She made a personal vow not to speak at Harvard University commencement until she turned the network around.
“What could I possibly say to Harvard graduates…at the very moment when I had stopped succeeding? So I went to the shower. It was either that or a bag of Oreos. I chose the shower.”
In the shower, the words of her favorite hymn came to her: “Trouble don’t always last.” Oprah decided with fierce determination to invest her energy into making OWN [Winfrey’s television network] a success.
“So this past year, I had to spoon feed those words to myself. When you are down in the hole, it’s really okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost, but then learn from every mistake. Every encounter and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you to be more of who you are.”
4.Develop an Internal Compass
Oprah told the class of 2013 to develop an internal “moral and emotional” GPS that will guide them through the difficult times. She said, “This is so important because when you inevitably stumble and find yourself stuck in a hole, that is the story that will get you out.”
5.We All Need to be Validated
Oprah Winfrey has conducted more than 35,000 interviews in her career [from President’s of countries to celebrities and ordinary people] and she’s noticed that all humans “want to be validated.” “We want to be understood.” Oprah recounted how even Beyoncé “in all her Beyoncé -ness” needs validation. “Even Beyoncé whispered ‘Was that okay?’—because that’s what everyone wants to know: Was that okay? Did you hear me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”
So to all of the graduates of 2013 and their families “I hear you” and congratulate, celebrate and honour your achievements on this milestone in your life. As my class of 2013 graduate’s yearbook quote says:
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
John F. Kennedy
First Graduation event: Graduation-Celebration-Family-Dinner at home! Quadruple layer cake made by the incredibly creative and talented Erin Nocent at The Sweetest Thing, Oakville
Place setting with a little bling for a Graduate:
Silver baby cup and American Silver Dollar Keychain from “the graduate’s” namesake and great-grandfather
“Mousey” joins the family celebration dinner…you are never too old for your childhood toys
Engraved Christening gifts add to the occasion…this time filled with “bits and bites” not pablum! Yum! or should that be Yuck!
Champagne on the deck with the grandparents and other family members
The lovely Erin made an “ombre ruffled” cake with “Prom ?” on top and a place for the “cupcake answer”…”Heck Yes” she said!
Prom night: The handsome couple ready to attend Prom’13
Happy Graduate = Happy Parents! xx
And then bright and early the VERY next day back to camp for the summer. Working as a Camp Counsellor in the spectacular Canadian wilderness
Sigh…ooo -to-be- seventeen!
Now parents and graduates (old enough to drink) pour yourself a glass of bubbly and soak up the summer sunshine!
Class of 2013 is dismissed!!!!!!
photo credits: Oprah Winfrey photo: NYTimes.com
Invited to a lovely Sunday lunch in O. with real British people! The e-mail said “Come for Sunday Lunch. Bloody Mary’s at 1:00” Who could resist!? Being THE week of THE QUEEN’S 60th Anniversary of her Coronation too. Sooo low key these Brits in O. but they do know how to get a party started even across the pond!
“What dreadful hot weather we have. It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance” – Jane Austen
With Raj-like like temps last weekend in O. deciding what to wear to “Sunday Lunch” required some thought. “Very Casual” was explicit in the invitation. Having been out a tad bit late the night before, comfort was in order. I believe in “high-low” dressing with regards to the fashion shopping budget…so here we go with a nod to British fashion designers – A VERY CASUAL SUNDAY LUNCH OUTFIT – AS IMAGINED – IF I had to go shopping with a reasonably unlimited budget
My favourite WHITE t-shirt GAP Essential short sleeve V neck 100% Pima Cotton ( Pima cotton is important if you like a smooth more dressy “t” that can be worn under jackets etc.) $19.95 Gap online (or less as there is always an online shopping coupon)
7-for-all mankind- boyfriend jean $295 Holt Renfrew online. Excuse the holes…but it’s not like my outfit has to be “fit for the Queen”. More on that later
MCQ- Alexander McQueen White Blazer! Love this in soooo many ways. $950 Holt Renfrew online
Burberry Vintage sneakers. You know this famous plaid. So comfortable on. $265 Holt Renfrew online
“Stop right now thank you very much” Helllllo Posh Spice love your Victoria Beckham Liberty Bag in Cobalt Blue $1395 Holt Renfrew online
Alexander McQueen Skull Ring $290 Holt Renfrew online
Dress up my casual comfy outfit with this chunky-link necklace. Eddie Borgo necklace $675 Holt Renfrew online
OR This fabulous cobalt blue statement necklace from Kenneth J Lane $95 Holt Renfrew online
And for a touch of local-O these Laurie McLachlan Jewellery Oakville “Stackable Rings”
And for protection from the Sun H & M Straw Hat $14.95
Keeping my eyes happy too! Ray Bans $155 Holt Renfrew online
Here is Queen Elizabeth II looking happy and beautiful at 87 years of age celebrating the 60th Anniversary of her Coronation this past week in London. The Queen’s Angela Kelly dress hat and coat in oyster colored silk-satin were all made from vintage cloth found in the Buckingham Palace materials room…right on trend…as chief practical royal
IF I WAS having Sunday Lunch with THE Queen I would opt for this lovely Stella McCartney dress $1050 Holt Renfrew online
And these “Pipa” patent leather slingbacks by LK Bennett (Duchess of Cambridge aka Kate Middleton’s often worn nude coloured pumps are also from LK Bennett ) $325 Holt Renfrew online
AND I cannot resist this ALEXANDER MCQUEEN skull box clutch $2325 Holt Renfrew online
MORE Eddie Borgo chunky link jewellery. The earrings and bracelet which I adore will complete my Sunday Lunch outfit as IMAGINED IF IT WAS with the Queen. Eddie Borgo Jewellery available at Holt Renfrew
Let Sunday Lunch begin! We have arrived to a BEAUTIFUL garden setting
The Bloody Mary’s are stirred spiced and served in the hosts English-Mother’s crystal pitcher. The silver ice tongs are from Turner Chapel Antiques Oakville
Before the lunch a delightful offering of delectable quails eggs which have been gently boiled and served with celery salt
Jumbo Shrimp served with mayo and lemon zest
Fresh veggies with Boffo’s (Oakville speciality food store) Asiago and Artichoke dip. Yummmmmy!
A garden gift from a friend
It begins to drizzle just in time to move indoors for lunch
Beautiful June Peonies!
Our host has set a charming table. THE table is an antique piece from the dining hall at Sherborne School for boys Dorset England . Ancient gum is stillllll stuck under the table by school boys as they awaited their overly boiled potatos in the dining hall. Table was purchased at Dodge and Sons Antiques 28-33 Cheap Street Sherborne Dorset UK. Love the name of the Antique shop and address AND the table of course! Boyyyyysssss EAT YOUR PEAS!!!!!!
Lamb with blueberries shallots and fresh mint from the garden
New potatos served with “lashes” of butter and fresh mint and chives from the garden. Served in a vintage leaf pattern bowl
Salad in a burled Canadian walnut bowl
Afterwards relaxing in the lounge-British-for-sitting room. Lamp from Rupert Lund Designs London UK and tray table from Turner Chapel Antiques Oakville
Another stunning lamp from Rupert Lund Designs London UK
Sunday Lunch was TRULY GREAT! These British have such humour style and wit. Also they are TRULY GREAT hosts. A VERY civilized way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We did get a little “tiddly” of course and enjoyed ourselves immensely! Thank you British friends.
Plate Emma Bridgwater China British Life Store Oakville
Possible table toppers when I host my very own Sunday Lunch?? Little over-the-top BUT such fun too!! Royal Wind Ups British Life Store Oakville
Post lunch relaxing with a “spot of tea “. Emma Bridgewater China British Life Store Oakville