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Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Canoe

Image courtesy D. Burton
The Canoe
No other vessel, craft, or man-made form of transportation has stayed as close to its original roots, endured in its purest of forms or proved as true a course as the canoe. The canoe is a craft of the people, yet it is the embodiment of true individuality. Its lines are manufactured virtue and artistry combined; practical, aesthetically pleasing, rugged to a fault. Its composition can be of a natural substance or a scientific breakthrough. Its design has been promoted and advanced by commerce, sport, warfare and even romance. The canoe embodies freedom, hearkens back to a simpler way of life yet represents a progression in time. One’s compulsion to build, posses or paddle a canoe runs deep within our DNA. 
My first boat was a canoe. I’m quite sure that most of us who have had boats had a canoe first. Many of us have owned bigger boats, but it seems we always return to a canoe. It’s a boat that can attract all who wish to be on the water, and be within their reach. No matter what one’s financial or societal situation is, there’s a canoe that works.

Walk almost any neighborhood in this great country of ours and chances are you’ll see a canoe. It might be astride work horses in a backyard, leaning against the side of a house or amid an overgrowth of weeds tucked behind a shed or garage, but believe me there’s one close by.       

Unlike other forms of transport, little of the canoe has changed. My ’93 Jeep is a far cry from the Jeep that won the Second World War, and differs even more from the Jeep being driven off the assembly line today. And bicycles, they’re another story; how many of us still ride a Penny Farthing? Yet my forty-year old canoe is little different (other than its construction materials) than those paddled by the early pioneers to this country. It’s propulsion system is the same; its shape and capabilities equal. For a few hundred dollars and a trip to Canadian Tire I could replace it this afternoon. But why should I?

Construction methods and materials have changed little. Progression beyond the dugout was inevitable and warranted. But beyond the birch-bark or cedar-strip, technology has encouraged and bred irresponsibility. Aluminum and fiberglass have only brought one advantage; accessibility. Even so, a cedar-strip or simple plywood canoe can be constructed with a few modern tools and a modest amount of funding.

History, adventure, romance and legend; all characteristic of the canoe. 
Niagara Falls’ namesake, the First Nations’ princess, was immortalized by paddling over the falls in her canoe. The Voyageurs and the fur traders, paddling their canoes to discovery, built commerce and established the original economic base our nation would be founded upon. Thousands of years ago the first migrants to this land plied its rivers and lakes in canoes seeking fish and game, and shelter from the elements. A few hundred years ago explorers and map makers charted this vast wilderness in canoes.  
The art that exemplifies Canada is heavily reliant on the canoe. Canoes are depicted in the work, or worked to deliver the product. Emily Carr portrayed the indigenous peoples' culture of the Pacific northwest and their great war and whaling canoes. Krieghoff depicted nineteenth century rural Canadian life with birch bark canoes even present in his winter scenes. Many of the Group of Seven were inspired while paddling. The last anyone saw of Tom Thomson was of him paddling away on a fishing trip, coincidentally to be found dead days later, floating on Canoe Lake. 
Archibald Belaney, better known as Grey Owl, set out on his adventures in a canoe. His quest to save the beaver propelled by a paddle, brought a knowledge of Canada and its wilderness to the world. Castor Canadensis would not be our nation’s symbol and quite possibly extinct were it not for the canoe.
Frances Anne Hopkins, while travelling with her husband Edward Martin and Sir George Simpson of the Hudson's Bay Company, was not only inspired to paint scenes depicting the great Voyageur canoes, but is thought to include herself seated amongst the fur traders' cargo on many of her canvases.      
The canoe, if not a main character, has often played a supporting role in Canadian literature. Whether advancing the story-line or transporting the author, the canoe will always be a devise for the written word in this great wilderness. From “Paddle to the Sea” to “Lost in the Barrens,” or the many works by such people as Bill Mason or Robert Service, canoes have always been an inspiration.     
Image courtesy D. Burton
Many great discoveries have been made in a canoe. Even greater though may be the personal discoveries we make while paddling our own canoe. Views of where the water meets the sky, or the land meets the water. Reflections of our world on a glassy lake or the multitude of colors churned up in the fury of a rock-strewn river, these images give us time, resource and a reason to ponder our own journey through life. 
Image courtesy D. Wade
The canoe is of great significance to Canada. Its profile is recognizable by all. All Canadians can easily have access to one, all of us have read about them. With all its practical and symbolic meaning why is it not immortalized as other Canadian iconic images are? 

Image courtesy C. Smith
We have the maple leaf on our flag and penny. Some will even dispute the maple leaf as symbolic of all of Canada. On the nickel a beaver; representative of Canadian resourcefulness and a true success story. On the dime the Bluenose, a vessel far beyond the means of anyone I know. The quarter shows a woodland caribou, most mistaking it for a moose. The “Loony” depicts a loon, the “Toonie” a polar bear. And where’s the canoe, far more representative of Canada than most of these? On some silver dollars. But most of us never even see these in circulation, most silver dollars are relegated to dresser drawers and coin collections.
Now that the controversy of the penny has been put to rest, why not replace the image on the dime with a canoe. My nomination would be that icon of provincial parks, portage route signifier, great Canadian super hero, Mr. Canoe Head!         

Water sustains our world. The canoe sustains my need to be on the water. It protects me from its depths while allowing me to quietly visit its solitudes. In a canoe I can harvest the water’s bounty and ponder my own contribution to this life.   

The canoe courses a passage through time. It’s wake our past, its heading our future. Between the gunnels and chines, our hope for prosperity.

A few notes, observations, recommendations and most importantly, a few words of thanks...

As you can see I've had help with some of the images that accompany this post. Dave Burton, a great friend, always comes through with requests petitioned through emails and Facebook, sent me some great shots, including my right hand! Dave also "lifted" the "Mr. Canoe Head" image from the Internet for me. That image came from The Portage Store. So if any of you are in need of equipment or interested in a paddle through Algonquin Park, check them out.

Colleen Smith and Ryan Madill, fellow paddlers, sent me a few images also. The one I used is fantastic, with a real-life Mr. Canoe Head! Keep paddling, guys!

The best canoes are "Free Canoes!" Doug Wade salvaged the sunken canoe and it now sits on his and Julie's shoreline. I guess old canoes never do die!

Beth Stanley, Artisan Program Coordinator of the Canadian Canoe Museum was also a great help! Please pay a visit to the museum next time you're in Peterborough. If you can't make the trip you can make a donation on-line. We need to preserve the wonderful craft on display there.

Both Paintings depicted here are by the above mentioned artist Frances Anne Hopkins. I believe the originals are held by Library and Archives Canada. If they have a problem with me using these two images they can give me a call. I'll remove the images and the link to their website!

I photographed the birch-bark canoe just this morning. It was built recently right here in Durham by Elder Marcel Lebelle in conjunction with the Oshawa and Durham Region Metis Council. There are some great images on their website showing its construction using a combination of modern tools and traditional methods. Well worth a visit!

Finally I would like to thank Brenda Ghent. My canoe, the green one pictured along side the red and the yellow canoes, lives at Brenda's and Paul's cottage on Skeleton Lake where it's well taken care of! If you would like to paddle my canoe, you can rent the cute little cottage in the background; Brenda can be found on my Facebook Friends list.    


Image courtesy D. Burton

Monday, February 27, 2012



It seems that the word of the week is austerity. Austerity may just become the word which defines the decade. If any attention is payed to the news at all one cannot help but hear that austerity is that which engulfs the first world. 
The firestorm raging in Greece is fueled by the imminent imposition of severe austerity. The EU is demanding it, the IMF is insisting on it. The Greek parliament is with one hand ensuring the EU it can implement it and with the other fighting the public as it tries to enforce it. 
In Canada we have the debate surrounding Old Age Security (OAS) and what will become of it in the not so distant future. Austerity might just become a way of life for those hoping to retire over the next couple of decades.

But even closer to home, specifically for those of us in Ontario, last week saw the release of the Drummond Report. Essentially, if Ontario does not reduce its spending, there will be no more money to spend. Cutbacks are essential. If most departments do not reduce costs due to less funding sent their way, all programs, social and infrastructure related will be cut or severely reduced.

Rob Ford saw what the threat of imposed austerity can cause. I don’t fear the same kind of backlash in the province though. Dalton McGuinty will not be making cuts that tug on the heartstrings of the general public. Cuts will be made, there’s no doubt there, but these cuts will be made to seem unnoticeable, they will appear innocuous, harming few,  limiting performance abilities of none. Appeasing the masses. Or so it will seem. 
Make no mistake, funding for provincial programs will be reduced, it’s inevitable, but also necessary. So where will these cuts happen, to which ministries? All one needs to do is look at past provincial budgets and follow the patterns.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is just such an example.


The MNR operating budget for 1993/1992 was $795 million. By the 2010/2011 budget that number had been reduced to $620 million. That’s a reduction of just over 22%. Of that $620 million only $400 million is budgeted through taxes directly funded by the provincial coffers. The remainder is revenue derived from hunting and fishing licenses, park admissions and other user fees. 
When considering that the province’s revenue for 2010/2011 was $106 billion the MNR received 0.45% of the provinces operating expenses. The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) 0.31%. By comparison the Ministry for Tourism and Culture received 0.55%
So if a drop of 22% in operating expenses has been justifiable over the past ten years, the first five of which were certainly not as lean as the five to come, were will we find the cross hairs of austerity aimed this time? The MNR certainly seams down range.
Whether we agree with the upcoming austerity measures or not, where they will happen or the reasoning for them, they are unavoidable. If you feel, as I do, that the MNR should not be subject to these cuts you certainly can voice your concerns to your local MPP. I have my suspicions though that little will come of that. Let’s face it, there is no extra money. And taking it from health care, or education, which account for 37.57% and 17.97% respectively of the provincial budget, is not going to happen.    
The province’s natural resources, its forests, lakes and rivers, and its wildlife are all indicators. The mammals, the birds, the fish, the reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the streams and lakes, woodlands and farmlands of Ontario are collectively the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The state of the resources the MNR is entrusted with managing forecasts the quality of our own existence. The MNR’s results portend to our own future. Investing in our future must always continue. But right now those investments are dwindling. 
Without proper funding many vital programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the MNR will suffer. Invading Species Awareness, further research into the spread of Hemorrhagic Septicemia, Chronic Wasting Disease and White Nose Syndrome. All programs instituted to strengthen native flora and fauna, all programs that the general public does not find fashionable and read barely a blip on the mainstream medias’ radar.  
Ontario created a plan to plant 50 million trees between 2007 and 2020. Will this program fall to austerity measures? Climate change is high in the public’s mind but how many of the province’s citizens were aware of this project to help curb global warming? Canceling or reducing this goal would warrant little explanation and gather even less press.
Even programs one might expect to be administered by other government offices could easily be cut. Community and health issues such as “Safety in the Woods,” “Be Bear Wise,” rabies control and enforcement will all see a reduction in operating costs, all with little fanfare. 
If funding is not forthcoming through government channels, it must come from elsewhere.
How then, with unavoidable cuts, can we assure funding for these programs continue? Money of course is the solution. And if government funding is not possible then private resources will be necessary. Support companies and businesses that contribute to conservation programs. Buy products from environmentally responsible corporations. Give your custom to those that donate a portion of their profit to worthwhile causes.

The best thing one can do in Ontario though, is to join the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). Established in 1928, since then the OFAH has been advocating responsible use and management of the province’s natural resources. Its work with all levels of government has also ensured that not only the membership, but also all the province’s population is guaranteed access to those resources.   

80% of all funds raised, through memberships, donations and profit from products, goes directly to the many programs the OFAH promotes and administers. Reintroduction of native species, restoration of environmentally sensitive areas, the promotion of outdoor and conservation opportunities for all that live in the province, and ensuring accessibility for anyone wishing to enjoy them, are but a few of the causes the OFAH is dedicated to.
A regular adult membership will cost less than a tank of gas, a family membership is far cheaper than an evening out at the movies! Joining while a promotion is running and paying far less than double the standard membership fee gets you $200 worth of hunting or fishing tackle donated by some of the Federation’s generous corporate sponsors. It’s money well spent, it’s insurance that work by the OFAH will continue and the province’s resources will be available and enjoyed by future generations.
Austerity is here to stay. It’s a foregone conclusion. Spending must decrease and certain government programs are bound to suffer. Unfortunately we have little say as individuals as to where those cuts should happen. But if we channel some of our own money into groups such as the OFAH we can be confident that there will be a voice, an effort and a little extra funding aimed at healing the cuts and reducing the slashes being made to protecting and sustaining the province’s natural resources and our traditional rights to enjoy them.       

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

 It's not very often that I share or copy other people's work on my blog. I've never posted anything that is not fully and completely Canadian either. But this year we will all be celebrating a few very important events in the history of this beautiful and under stated land called Canada. And we have our roots. This posting was shared with me by my Mum. I love the images. They are historic, imposing and a significant realization of what we are all capable of. How many things do we build now, hoping and believing that they will stand beyond the next generation? Be they structures, ideologies or symbols of our longings for the preservation of our cultures, some things, some ideas, and some dreams do last.                                           

Pictures of the Tower Bridge during construction found dumped in a skipThis is one of the London 's most beloved landmarks as you've never seen her before.
Stripped down to her underwear, the never before seen pictures of the Tower Bridge -- one of the world's most recognisable structures -- have been unveiled after the stash of hundred-year-old prints were found in a skip. 

Coinciding with the 125th anniversary of the bridge's foundation, the 50 sepia photos reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the British capital's most popular tourist destinations, which was the first bridge of its kind in the world.  

Never seen before: 

Development:   Photographs show the progress in the construction process, from basic structures to something easily recognisable as the Tower Bridge as we know it today

Unique:  Many of the 50 sepia prints are in good condition, despite dating back to 1892.   Several are even dated, making it possible to trace the progress in construction

  Although many of the century-old pictures are in a state of disrepair, around 20 are in good condition.   Many of the 12 by 10 snaps are dated and clearly show how the bridge was put together over a space of eight years.   Memorable scenes include turn-of-the-century laborers taking orders from a site foreman in a bowler hat and a shot of the bridge's original steam-powered engine room, which could open the bridge in less than a minute.   In one poignant picture flags decorate the body of the bridge and a hand-written pencil note reads:   ‘Note, flags denote Mr Hunter's wedding day’.
   It wasn't until earlier this month, when the owner of the photos mentioned them to his neighbor, City of Westminster tour guide Peter Berthoud that the significance of the find fully emerged.   Mr Berthoud, an expert in the history of London who gives guided tours around famous landmarks including the Tower Bridge , said that he was gobsmacked by the haul.

Stripped down:  The photographs show how the bridge was put together over eight years, revealing why it was nicknamed at the time the ' Wonder Bridge '

Landmark:  The Tower Bridge remains one of the British capital's most iconic structures and a tourist attraction today, 125 years after building started

Sepia to silver screen:  The incomplete Tower Bridge features in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes battles with his adversary Lord Henry Blackwood

  Contrary to popular misconception, the images reveal the bridge is a sturdy steel frame beneath the instantly recognisable stone cladding.   Mr Berthoud said: "When my neighbor gave me a disk with the images on I just couldn't believe it.   I spent hours going through my books to see if these pictures were already around but I couldn't see them anywhere -- they are unique.   Quite simply London 's Tower Bridge is the world's most iconic bridge and it's the only bridge over the Thames which has never needed to be replaced at some point.

Discovery:  Peter Berthoud was gobsmacked when his neighbour showed him the haul of photos.   He spent hours going through books to find something similar, only to discover they are unique

Transformation:  The bridge took eight years to build and at the time was a landmark feat of engineering, combining elements of a suspension and high level bridge and a bascule

It combines elements of a suspension bridge, a high level bridge and a bascule which allows it to open for ships to pass.   Nothing had ever been made like it before and nothing since.   People are always surprised when I tell them that the Tower Bridge is a steel bridge, as the stone cladding is so recognisable". 

  The 59 year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that after the occupants of the Westminster office building moved out, the album and a number of documents were thrown into a skip outside.  He said: "I took the ledgers to the Tower Bridge Museum because I thought they might have some historical value.

Remarkable find:   The prints reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the British capital's most popular tourist attractions and how it was put together

A view of the bridge:  The sturdy steel frame of the Tower Bridge can be seen, before it was covered with its distinctive stone-cladding on the orders of architect John Wolfe-Barry

They included records of the materials and used in the bridge's construction and what they cost.   I told the man at the museum that I had also found some photos but he told me they already had plenty of those.   I didn't know what to do with them so I wrapped them in some brown paper and put them in a bag under the bed".
The pictures of London 's Tower Bridge were found in a skip and then wrapped up in brown paper and put in a carrier bag under a bed.

  According to the tour guide, the bridge's original architect, Horace Jones, wanted to clad the bridge in brick but following his death he was succeeded as architect by John Wolfe-Barry, who decreed the bridge should be clad in stone.
  Mr Berthoud said: "My favorite pictures are of the simple, humble guys building the bridge, unaware that what they are making will be so historic.   People are used to seeing images of the Empire State Building being built but this is part of British history being created 50 years earlier".