CBBH Photo challenge: same subject, different time

Here’s my interpretation of this month’s challenge posed by East of Malaga blog. I chose to show how two urban landscapes, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa, look in different seasons.

A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
ottawa
National War Memorial in Ottawa (late spring and in the dead of winter)

The Poppy

As my country does not belong to the Commonwealth or fought in either of the World Wars, I had no idea that a poppy was worn on Remembrance Day (11th November) as a tribute to the fallen in battle. I learned about it a few years back when we were in England. Sean had dropped me off at a shopping mall somewhere before going to a meeting.

The entrance hall was empty except for me and an elderly gentleman in dress uniform sitting behind a stall. He asked me if I wanted a poppy. I really didn’t but I felt obligated to buy one because I was the only customer in sight and he was rather pushy. In my ignorance, I asked him how much it was. The cantankerous veteran barked that it was A VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION. I gave him a pound. What do I do with the poppy now? YOU PUT IN ON YOUR LAPEL, YOU SILLY TOURIST (he didn’t actually call me that but he implied it with his withering look.)

Years later, one of our expeditions around Ontario, Canada, took us to Guelph, a lovely town with a Victorian downtown area.

Quite by chance, we learned that Lt. Col. John McCrae’s birthplace was near the Speed River. And who was Lt. Col. John McCrae, one can wonder. He wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields after the Second Battle of Ypres (Belgium, 1915) as a war memorial. The house where McCrae was born is now a museum (which was closed that day) and there’s a pretty moving memorial in the garden. The garden was in full bloom (it was July) and there were different kinds of poppies, of course. It’s well worth a visit if one’s in the area.

Lt Col John McRae's birthplace - Guelph

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt Col John McRae's birthplace - Guelph

Wikipedia tells me that “Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields”.

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5 fun facts about Canada

We lived in this great country for about a year and a half and had the opportunity to visit many wonderful places, like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Southern Ontario.

Here are a few things I learned or discovered during out time there. The photos are my own.

  • Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This French colony became British, then became an independent dominion and is now a sovereign nation. The sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, is represented by the Governor General in Parliament, who in turn is appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister. Tenure is “at pleasure” and generally lasts five years. The current Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada is the Right Hon. David Johnston. (Source: http://www.parl.gc.ca)
Parliament's Centre Block
  • Poutine is delicious. If you think that fries, gravy and cheese curds don’t go well together, think again! This Canadian comfort food is originally from Quebec but is now popular from coast to coast. I first ate in the dead of winter in Ottawa and found it a great remedy against the cold.
  • If you ever wondered how the poppy came to be associated with war veterans and worn on Remembrance Day, Guelph (a city located in Southern Ontario) has the answer. It is the birthplace of Lt. Cl. John McCrae, who wrote the war memorial poem In Flanders Fields: “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row…”
  • Many Canadian cities have an underground network that interconnects important buildings in the downtown core. These networks are called differently in each city. I’m familiar with the PATH in Toronto (not all of its 27 kilometres!) and the RESO in Montreal but I’ve heard that Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg and St. John have one too. These underground corridors are lined with shops and food courts, and connect hotels, banks, shopping centres and so on. It’s such a clever solution for pedestrians during the harsh Canadian winters.
A PATH entrance
  • The film industry is very big in Toronto.  Countless famous films have been shot either in the city’s studios or on location around the city. Many scenes that supposedly take place in Manhattan are actually filmed in Dundas Square. Lake Ontario is used in ocean scenes.
On location in Little Italy.

If you’re in… Ottawa

We visited Ottawa in the middle of January and, although it may not be the best time to visit, we got to see and do quite a bit. Here’s a few tips that worked for us.

    View from the top of the Peace Tower
  • The ByWard Market, established in 1826,  is a lovely place to visit -even in winter. The indoor market is open all year round, although I saw a couple of vendors brave the low temperatures who put up their stalls on the snowy sidewalks.

  • Ottawa is a pedestrian-friendly cit (weather permitting, of course). So walk around.
  • Walk around the Parliament Hill grounds and take a guided tour of the Centre Block. The Centre Block is where all the action takes place as it houses the Senate and the  House of Commons, modelled after the British House of Lords and  House of Commons, respectively. The Library of Parliament was designed in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style (that’s a mouthful…) and smells wonderfully of old books and white pine. The most fun though is going to the top of the Peace Tower. The views of the city are the best (according to our guide. I can’t argue with that.) The tours are free of charge.

                Centre Block / Parliament Hill
  • The Rideau Canal, which runs through the city, freezes in winters and an 8 kilometre long section becomes a skate rink. There are chalets (change rooms), food and drink vendors and washrooms along the way.
  • People are very kind. They’ll answer all your questions with a smile and even have a chat with you. So talk to people!
  • Fortify yourself against the cold with bowls of cafe au lait with croissant and pains au chocolat at the Boulager Française.
  • Indulge in some retail therapy at the Rideau Center (or use it as a short cut to avoid icy streets) .
  • Learn about the Group of Seven and other Canadian artists (both from European descent and First Peoples) at the National Gallery of Canada.

            National Gallery

Notes from Ottawa

Arriving in Canada was like meeting an old friend; albeit a very frigid one: it was about -18 Celsius. I gasped for air as soon as I crossed the doors of the terminal towards the taxi. We drove past stores like Loblaw’s, Metro, Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire, all of which brought back so many memories of the time we lived in Toronto.

That evening, quite a lot of people were skating along the Rideau Canal, which runs across the city and freezes in winter. Considerably fewer people were jogging along the canal’s path. I thought to myself “Would I be able to endure the harsh Canadian winter? Probably not, I’d miss the sunny climes I’m used to.” But I’m proud to say that I survived a whole week unscathed.

It's cold!

Our mission in Ottawa was to renew our American visas. Yes, I did say American. You see, the renewal process is started and approved in the US but the cherry of the pie, the actual visa stamp, is obtained at any American Consulate around the world. We chose Ottawa because it was convenient.

For security reasons, you’re not allowed to bring bags, cameras, phones, etc, into the Consulate building. We took nothing but the clothes on our backs and the documents we needed. I put my gloves, pashmina, wool hat and parka through the scanner. A female security guard took my parka, checked the pockets and removed two highly dangerous articles that could potentially pose a security risk: my travel-size lip gloss and chewing gum. She foiled the Chewing Gum Plot.  I was not allowed to bring these items inside and had to pick them up on the way out.

We ate poutine, the quintessential Canadian comfort food, to fortify ourselves against the cold. We found a place called Poutinerie that serves basic poutine with many different toppings. We tried it topped with caramelized onions, peas and mushrooms; pulled pork and bacon and the traditional one, which was my favourite.

Traditional poutine

 

One afternoon, I visited the National Gallery of Canada (or Musée des beaux-arts du Canada for those who live across the river in Quebec.)  I did what I always do at art museums: look at the date of birth (and death, if he or she is not contemporary) of each artist and calculate their age. And if they died young, I feel sorry for them. I seem to spend more time doing that than looking at their work. I wonder why.

I’ve always found Tim Horton’s coffee revolting (although their doughnuts are the best in the world.) But I changed my mind after that last cup of coffee I had at the airport at 5 am before our flight home. Sean ordered a double-double for me and a whole new vista opened up: it was actually quite good.  As it happens, I’d been doing it all wrong. Too bad we were about to leave the country.

5 am cup of coffee at the airport