Category Archives: Canada

Bright Star

Just watched the International Space Station pass directly over the UK. It was 263 miles up, travelling at approximately 17,000 miles per hour. In and out of sight in only 6 minutes. Amazing sight.

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Who moved my cheese?

From today’s edition of The Globe And Mail:

MONTREAL — Luc Boivin’s lost cheddar is passing into local legend as the Titanic of the cheese world.

The Quebec cheese maker dropped a 2,000-pound cargo of cheese to the bottom of the Saguenay fjord last year in a ripening experiment. Then he spent this summer searching for it. And now, after deploying a team of divers and an arsenal of high-tech tracking equipment, Mr. Boivin has given up the quest.

Apparently, he’s undeterred and going to repeat the experiment again this year!

The Power of Symbolism

The Globe And Mail for September 28, 2005
The Globe And Mail for September 28, 2005

There’s some good news from Canada today in the form of the swearing in of its 27th Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean. Her appointment appears to have struck a chord with many Canadians, whose vision for their country’s future includes many of the principles and values personified by this new head of state.

The following excerpt comes from John Ibbitson’s column on the front page of today’s Globe And Mail (The remarkable new Governor-General):

Canadians seem to be celebrating this appointment as though it really mattered, as though the Governor-General were something other than merely the Queen’s representative, the titular commander of the armed forces, a cutter of ribbons and a deliverer of clichéd speeches whose powers are held mostly in reserve. Why?

In part it is because she is not a politician. Her job, by definition, is to remain above the gritty, grubby business of governing this messy federation.

But there’s more to it. Not since the 1960s have our political leaders seemed so irrelevant, so disconnected. Then, it was a society of youth seeking to demolish outdated moral and social strictures. Today it is a society of immigrants seeking to create the world’s most cosmopolitan society. Then they turned to Pierre Trudeau. Today they turn to . . ..

There is no one to turn to.

But here is this beautiful young Canadian of Haitian birth, with a smile that makes you catch your breath, with a bemused older husband by her side, and a daughter who literally personifies our future, and you look at them and you think: Yes, this is our great achievement, this is the Canada that Canada wants to be.

And suddenly, the arguments of the nationalists and the sovereigntists and the fire-wallists, of the alienated and resentful and estranged, are so tired, so yesterday, that you just don’t want to have to listen to them any more.

Yes, indeed. French and English stop your quarreling. It just doesn’t matter any more.

Anything goes

The BBC is reporting that John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has topped the US dance chart at the age of 71 with a song supporting gay marriage (see Yoko’s gay wedding song is US hit).

I can’t understand how George W. Bush can argue that he’s in favour of greater freedom for people when he “wants to change the US constitution to specify that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman”.

Thirty-seven years ago while Justice Minister, a famous Canadian communist declared There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. The left-wing Liberal Pierre Trudeau was in favour of freedoms that the current “leader of the western world” is unwilling to give his own nation.

Whenever I hear the Bush Administration arguing rhetorically about freeing foreign peoples, I can’t help thinking of Cole Porter (an active homosexual, but at least he married a woman!). Porter hit the nail on the head when he wrote Anything Goes:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes

It seems to me that the people who talk most about freedom, are really opportunistic control freaks who disguise themselves as liberals (i.e. freedom fighters) whenever it helps their selfish cause. Things are not what they seem, and anything goes!

PS – Is dancing allowed in Texas?

Mel Lastman Square

The BBC has just broadcast a radio play that contains an embarrassing Canadian error.

In Harry and Gloria by Katie Hims, Harry is a Canadian soldier awaiting the D-Day landings. He writes a letter to his English lover, Gloria, when the time comes to end their affair. In the meantime Gloria fantasizes about walking arm in arm through the streets of Toronto, including Fourth Avenue and Mel Lastman Square.

Mel Lastman with very red eyes

He doesn’t look that old, does he?

Well I don’t know if Toronto contains a Fourth Avenue, but I’m quite certain Mel Lastman Square didn’t exist in 1944. Mel Lastman was only 11 years old that year, and no one could have mistaken suburban North York for downtown Toronto at that time anyway.

The English equivalent would be referring to a square in Milton Keynes named after London’s mayor Ken Livingstone! Looks like BBC Drama needs to improve its fact checking.

Woodland wonders

Last weekend Kew Gardens held its sixth annual Woodland Wonders Festival, and fortunately we chose the best day weather-wise to visit.

Queen Charlotte's Cottage surrounded by bluebells

Bluebells behind Queen Charlotte’s Cottage

This festival is the one event in the year when Kew opens Queen Charlotte’s Cottage to the public, and so we toured the interior of this former royal garden shed along with thousands of others. It turns out that the building is deceptively narrow; really just wide enough for one room plus connecting hallway. It contains two spacious, opposing staircases (very impractical; not even the royals need two ways to go up and down in such a small space), and upstairs the wallpaper of the largest room was designed by one of the Victorian princesses. Apart from a collection of 18th century framed prints (reproductions) which decorate some of the rooms, the cottage is largely unfurnished. All in all it was pretty underwhelming.

Morris dancing at Kew

Morris dancing at Kew – what’s with those handkerchiefs?

On the other hand the rest of the festival was impressive. Many skilled, woodsy folk had set up tents in which they displayed ecologically-friendly activites: bee-keeping, wood carving, archery, etc. A troop of kooky Morris dancers put on several shows, and swings for children were hung from some of Kew’s enormous trees, while free samples of Kew Brew (a premium ale brewed with hops grown at Kew) were handed out to their parents.


Some azaleas were in full bloom

The plants and flowers were brilliant as usual. Not only were the bluebells all out, but a few of the azaleas and rhododendrons were also in full bloom (many will need another week I think). By far the most spectacular display, however, was put on by the lilacs, most of which were clearly at their fragrant peak; and in the process of admiring them I discovered a strong Canadian connection.


The lilacs were at their peak

British-born Isabella Preston (1881 – 1964) immigrated to Canada at the age of 31 and became one of the world’s foremost lilac hybridists. Working in Guelph, Ontario, she developed lilacs ideally suited to northern climes – late flowering shrubs with prolific blooms. Kew now has several specimens of these eponymous Syringa xprestoniae.

All in all, it was an excellent day out.


Newsmap provides an interesting view of the news media’s priorities, as captured and classified by Google News.


The news in Canada, the UK and the US as displayed on Newsmap

Each news item is allocated screen space according to the number of stories published about it. More popular stories appear larger; less popular stories are smaller. The stories are also colour-coded according to the “section” in which they would appear in a newspaper: World – dark brown, Nation (domestic news) – light brown, Sports – olive green, Business – blue, Entertainment – teal, for example. It’s also possible to compare several of Google’s national versions, all of which means that you can use Newsmap to analyse cultural differences in the world’s news media.

And what do you find if you do?

Here are the top three priorities (as of earlier today) for three countries with which I’m familiar:

  • Canada: World, Sports, Business
  • UK: World, Sports, Business
  • US: Sports, World, Nation (domestic news)

A closer examination reveals some even more interesting differences. World news receives two and half times as much coverage in the UK than in the US, and even Canada publishes approximately 30% more World news (proportionally) than the US. Instead of World news the US devotes its attention to Sports (2.5 times more than the UK) and domestic news (Nation).

Domestic news (Nation) is lowest in Canada, which also gives the most space/time to Entertainment. Business and technology are very similar in all three countries. Health is the smallest category everywhere.

So what does this tell us? Well, it would seem that the stereotypical cliches are all true. America is obsessed with itself; nothing much happens in Canada; and Britain still believes it can punch above its weight on the world stage.

Terrorists or Texans

Last week the US Congress scared the living daylights out of Americans by denouncing Canada as a welcoming haven for terrorists (see Terror groups flourish in Canada: U.S. report).

Now there’s equally scary news for Canukistanis as it appears Texans have been caught taking all their bad habits into God’s Country accidentally. According to the BBC (Grenade closes US-Canada border):

There are two Vancouvers – one is a small American town, the other is the large Canadian city. On Monday, a woman from Texas trying to find the small town ended up at the Canadian border.

When officials there searched her vehicle, they found a hand grenade in the glove compartment. Within minutes, the border was evacuated and the bomb squad was on the scene.

Once the woman explained her story though, things quickly calmed down. A Canadian police spokesman says they are satisfied that the woman was simply lost and had never meant to go to Canada. They soon released her and reopened the border.

As for the hand grenade, police say, the woman had no idea it was in her vehicle.

I think that makes both countries even. I mean, terrorists or crazy Texans … which would you prefer?