Archive for July, 2011


I was accepted into grad school at the University of Alberta in the summer of 1975. I drove out in late August from Toronto in a 1969 MGB (more of that in a later post) and arrived in Edmonton. There was an initial meeting of the new grad students and then we were left to find our own accommodation. I ended up with a couple of guys from the States – Steve from Minnesota and Greg from South Dakota. We found a basement apartment in Gold Bar, which was about as far from campus as we could get. We began to settle in but one of the traditions in the geography department at that time was a trip to the mountains for the new students.

Now the mountains were nothing new to Steve. Aside from being an actual cowboy (he had worked on a ranch in Montana over the summer), he was also an accomplished cross-country ski racer and climber. Greg had some experience in the mountains but this was very new to me.

So, we piled into a number of vehicles and headed to Jasper. We all stayed in the Maligne hostel and the first order of business after getting settled was to head into Jasper town to the Athabasca Hotel, or the Atha-B as it was more commonly known. I will be perfectly honest but I don’t remember much from the evening except being helped (thrown) into the back of a Suburban for the trip back to the hostel.

For a kid from Ontario, this was all pretty mind boggling but it was to get better. We drove up to Mount Edith Cavell which is south of Jasper town. It is a great drive up to the base of Cavell with its view of the mountain and the Angel Glacier. And I thought this was we had come to see … however that was not the case as we set out to climb a unnamed subsidiary peak across from Cavell. In climbing jargon, it was a scramble to the top – nothing technical. Steve and a fellow from England named Chris disappeared up the trail while the rest of us slogged upwards. I don’t recall how long it took but Steve and Chris waited for close to an hour at the top before the rest of us arrived.

When I finally made it to the top, there was Steve with a big grin on his face. He gave me a thumbs up, a big smile and only said “fuckin’ eh”. No matter how tired I may have felt, the view more than made up for it. We were up around 7,000 feet and there was an incredible view of Cavell on one side and a panoramic view of the Athabasca River valley on the other. The feeling was indescribable – I still get emotional driving into the mountains to this day.

Standing in the shadow of Mount Edith Cavell - 1975

The group on top of the peak - My roommate Steve is kneeling in front and my other roommate Greg is on the right taking a picture

The next day we climbed along one of the lateral moraines on the Columbia Ice Fields and then headed back to Edmonton. What an introduction to the Rockies and my new life in Alberta.


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My oldest son had his birthday this week and we went out for a celebratory dinner. We went to a local restaurant that features beef since he was interested in a good steak. Now this presents a little bit of an issue since a couple of the family have chosen to be vegetarians. However, the restaurant had some vegetarian options so all was good.

Now my son has worked in a number of restaurants and most recently worked as a cook in a small, well respected independent restaurant in one of the trendy areas of town. During the meal, the conversation turned to eating and vegetarianism. My son remarked that the veggie burgers they served always got high praise. His mother, one of the vegetarians, asked if it was how they made their burger. No was the answer. The main reason that people liked them, according to my son, was they were cooked on the same flat top as the regular (meat) burgers so the flavours transferred to the veggie burgers …

It was all I could do not to choke on my prime rib …

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So what is it about breakfast? I am not talking about the nutritional and health benefits, but rather the social side of the event.

Jim, Don and I met for breakfast in a town west of Edmonton before we went to the Little Flower festival. It was nothing fancy but I found myself smiling inside every so often while we were there. There is something about the atmosphere around having breakfast in a restaurant that I really enjoy.

It’s an opportunity to have items you normally would not take the time to fix for yourself (and are probably not as good for you). The phrase “freshen your coffee?” … most of the time I will say no, but it is nice to be asked. The word ‘fresh’ seems to figure prominently … fresh orange juice, fresh eggs, fresh coffee. It is the anticipation of the what lies ahead for the day – a fresh start. And while you know you eventually have to be somewhere, the extra cup of coffee and the conversation that goes with it makes you feel like time is moving a little slower.

In one of the previous lives in my career, our work unit used to meet for breakfast once every couple of months. Breakfast doesn’t have the formality of other meals and we would have some really good chats about work and non-work. Everyone wasn’t bogged down like at the end of the day and conversation and ideas would flow freely.

But, for me, breakfast out somewhere brings back memories of younger days. Meeting up before going to the cottage, a race at Mosport or a hike in Jasper. It was an opportunity for some last minute plans or just good natured banter. The meal would set the tone for the day. There was something about being on your own and setting your own agenda rather than being told what to do. It was probably one of the first “adult” things we got to do.

Good friends, strong coffee and the promise of a good day ahead. Doesn’t get much better. I’m just saying …

Me, Norm and Eric ... after finishing a hike in Jasper (c. late 70s)

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We played the open stage at the Uptown Folk Club last night. The main reason for going there was to meet a fellow that has a small recording studio. We have decided to make some proper recordings of a few of our songs so when we are asked for a sample of our music, we can provide something reasonable.

We did sign up for a slot and ended up getting the second last opening for the night. Which meant we stayed until the end. There have been times when this is painful but there were a lot of good players and it turned out to be an enjoyable evening all around. We finally made our way onto stage around 10:30. One of the nice touches of the Uptown is they video your performance and hand you a DVD right after you are done.

Being told we were going to be the last performers of the night (DVD screen grab)

It was the standard open stage performance – 3 songs or 15 minutes. We decided to each do a vocal so the song list was Sittin’ Here (Jim), Sunday Morning Alibi (me) and Clouds of Alberta (Don).

Singing "Sittin Here" - one of Jim's songs (DVD screen grab)

As mentioned in the Little Flower post, instrument changes seem to be a standard part of our repertoire.

Juggling instruments (DVD screen grab)

Don’s song, Clouds of Alberta, was our closer. After last weekend, this was a bit of an anticlimax. No broken strings, everything stayed in tune – it was a nice way to end the night.

Performing "Clouds of Alberta" (DVD screen grab)

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We, as in the Magpies, Magpiez, Maggpies, played the 6th annual Little Flower micro festival near Seba Beach, west of Edmonton. Little Flower is one of the oldest open stages in Edmonton and its founder, Breezy Brian Gregg, puts on a weekend music festival each year on the acreage.

The Little Flower Festival is about as laid back as you get. The area isn’t very big and aside from a couple of port-a-potties, there are no real facilities. But there is an outdoor stage, a big campfire that seems to go continuously and lots of real friendly people. Surprisingly, the mosquitos didn’t present the threat we were afraid of. There were lots of them but they didn’t seem to be biting all that much. It could have been a lot worse.

The proceedings start on Friday night and Saturday begins with the concert “at the end of the world”. This is a hike into the bush, led by a bagpiper, to a little clearing where the Sawhorse Symphony presented an acoustic set. Back to the main area and the music starts around 2.

We played a 25 minute set about 4 o’clock. If nothing else we had the most instruments on stage with the fewest musicians. We had two guitars, bass, keyboard, banjo and Irish bouzouki (and shaker if you really want to keep count).

Jim has an excellent run down of our set on his blog. Suffice to say I think it went pretty well.

And as always, there were several lessons to be learnt. During the second song, Ernest and Lucy, I lost the lyrics by starting off the third verse with the wrong line. The lesson – don’t stop. I improvised as best I could until I got back on track. Only family and friends would have noticed.

The last song was Don’s “Clouds of Alberta”. Now I think we have done Clouds at just about every open stage and festival we have played. Jim has started playing banjo on this one and it fits real well. Don plays guitar and I am back on bass. This one rocks out a little more than most of our tunes. So Don finishes the intro, which is quieter, and then lays into the main part of the song – and promptly breaks a string. This, in turn, throws the rest of his guitar off. So while he is trying to compensate, I realize the D string on my bass is no longer in tune. Next lesson – for the third and fourth songs, I was playing different instruments and my bass was on its stand – in the sun. Since the bass carries a bit of the melody, this is not a good situation. So, again, don’t stop – and I did something I have never done before and tried retuning while playing. After a couple of tries I was pretty close and we kept going. We finally got through the song.

The Magpies (Jim, me and Don) at the Little Flower Micro Festival

It was not the best way to finish but we are getting more secure on stage and pulled it off as best we could. It helped to be in front of a very good audience and lessons were learned. We had some good feedback and one fellow said our lyrics (Don’s and Jim’s) were brilliant. Bottom line – a good time had by all and another experience to add to the repertoire.

P.S. Thanks to Wanda and Jim for the pic.

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That was the time on my bedroom clock when I woke up. I had the french door in the bedroom slightly open and when I looked outside, the sky was orange. Not slightly orange but bright orange. And about two minutes later I heard the first crack of thunder. This was an unusual start to the day … a line of thunderstorms moving through first thing in the morning.

The view to the west around 5:46 am

My Canon G11 was in the living room so I got up and went to see a very interesting sky. There was a squall line moving through from the west. The dark skies to the west were a stark contrast to the bright sunshine on the trees in the front of the house. My daughter joined me and together we started snapping pictures. Penny, our yellow lab cross, was quite excited by all the noise and people being up at that hour. She had some trouble settling down until the storm passed, which was unusual for her – normally she isn’t very upset by the weather.

Squall line moving across the sky around 5:55 am

As the clouds moved farther east, they started to obscure the sunrise and the light started to dim. The last shot shows the trees in motion as the down draft from the storm reached us. The rain started around 6 am and lasted a little more than an hour with plenty of thunder and lightning. Luckily there was only a very small amount of pea sized hail right around the end of the storm but no damage. It was a very entertaining way to start the day.

The trees in motion as the downdraft reaches us and the light dims

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All that is left of Artland, Saskatchewan

As with the shot of the first Formula 1 safety car, I occasionally get surprised by views on my Flickr account.

In September 2007, I spent a few days driving around Lloydminster Alberta. One the spots I passed through was Artland, Saskatchewan – or what was left of Artland. It is in east central Saskatchewan just west of Manitou Lake. It is an interesting area that has a lot of small hills and not very much productive land. I was travelling north on a range road and just past the CN line, I saw this monument and a historical marker. Pulling off the road, there was a plaque on a large boulder and the foundations of a number of buildings. Artland was a station on the railway line and had been prosperous in its day. I wandered around for a while and took a number of shots. I have been in a few abandoned towns and it is always a bit touching to think what once was.

The plaque commenerating Artland

I think there must be something about the name that intrigues people. I would have never guessed that 200+ people would be interested in the image or I would even stumble across such a place.

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