Friday, 29 July 2016

Exploring the Culture of Southwest Ontario

St. Marys

Blog 31

When we first came to Canada, we lived with Ingo's parents which was not always easy after we had been used to living on our own for years. I am sure it was not easy for them either to have constant “visitors” at their house. As they were so very generous and did not want to accept any rent or money for food, Ingo and I had decided to invite them to “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the Stratford Festival. For me, it was a chance to see some of the cultural events of Ontario.

We stayed in a cozy, beautifully renovated B&B. When we strolled through Stratford, I liked the little shops, but I was annoyed that a main artery road went through the town which meant that trucks were constantly passing by. Therefore, I did not really enjoy the meal on an outdoor patio. The path along the river Avon towards the festival site was very different. The area was just beautiful with lots of green from the parks, beautiful swans and ducks in the water, and small wooden bridges crossing from one side to the other. A place just perfect for painting!

I would have liked to stroll this path again the next morning but we had registered for a walking tour which turned out to be totally boring as the guide spoke so quietly and monotonously that I gave up listening after a short time. He also walked so slowly that a snail could have easily passed him. It was exhausting!

The play was very good, even though I had a hard time following the plot because the actors spoke Old English, but the choreography was fantastic. I would have loved to watch Macbeth which would have been easier for me as I had studied the story in Old English at school. Hopefully another time I’ll be able to see it.

We continued from Stratford to St. Marys, also called “The Stone Town” due to the many stone buildings build from the abundant limestone of the surrounding area. Strolling through town, I found a great arts and craft store that sold lots of materials for teddy bear making. There was also a flyer for the upcoming teddy bear parade. I was in bear heaven! I would have liked to return for the parade. I have never managed.

Next, we reached Grand Bend, a vacation destination right at the shores of Lake Huron. I felt like in a Spanish tourist site. There were women with the tiniest bikinis walking even down the shopping promenade, Arnold Schwarzenegger type guys with heavy gold chains on the hairy chest, lots of variety stores offering cheap merchandise, and bistros with loud music.

The beach and the water were indeed beautiful, but it was very busy, even on a weekday. I still would have liked to walk along the beach, but this did not fit into our sightseeing programme.

Instead we continued to Goderich. The town was a picture of devastation. It was a sad sight: there were uprooted trees everywhere, especially old trees with a diameter of at least 2 metres. Fortunately, most of the houses were hardly damaged. You could see where the tornado had cut its path from the water through the town. The beauty of the beach was a stark contrast. It was so inviting to go swimming but unfortunately, we did not bring our swimming wear.

Rather, we strolled to the town centre that has an octagonal square where the courthouse is situated. All around were some nice shops. In one shop, the salesman wanted to sell me a designer bear for $200. In another store, it would have been a fantastic opportunity to increase my collection with a “Vanderbear” that was reduced by almost $100. However, without a salary and a space to put my bears, I had to pass.

Finally, we drove to St. Jacobs, a picturesque town with many artisans and the famous St. Jacobs Farmers' Market. We did not have a chance to visit the town as it was already dinner time.It was a shame because I also would have like to learn more about the Mennonite history of the town. Instead, we decided to end our little trip with a dinner at a local restaurant. Inside the restaurant, we bumped into a couple of Ingo's father's colleagues. Ingo's dad reminds me of my own father who seems to know people everywhere.

I enjoyed spending time with Ingo's parents. Even though we lived under one roof, his father was often away on business or rowing trips, and his mother was usually busying herself around the house.

It was also a nice distraction because Ingo had received notice that the company in Ottawa was just checking the references before they would make him an offer. The call left me very unsettled and caused a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.

Thank you for following my journey of discovering Canada. Maybe, my story has given you some ideas for beautiful Canadian areas that are worth visiting. I hope you will continue to follow my blog. If you know anyone who might be interested in my story, I would appreciate it if you would share my blog. Thank you in advance for helping me to increase my audience.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Cottage Adventures

Blog 30

After our visit to Ottawa in early July 1995, we went back to the cottage in Muskoka to enjoy some lazy summer days. When we reached the cottage, we were greeted with a not so pleasant surprise. The floor of the living room was trembling, and a horrible booming noise could be heard in the whole cottage until Ingo turned off the water pump. However, that meant no water. Luckily, early the next morning the handyman came and fixed the problem.

On this second visit to the cottage, the weather was fantastic. It was very hot. We enjoyed the time on the patio and swimming in the lake. It was the middle of the week, and I could hardly believe our luck of being able to enjoy life with crafts, books, and games while everyone else was at work. Actually not everyone, as we would find out when we went to the “33rd Muskoka Arts & Crafts Summer Show” that started on a Friday at 10 am. It was about half an hour later when we reached Bracebridge, and it was hard to find a parking spot. I had wondered who would visit such an event on a Friday morning, and was totally surprised to see so many people.

There were 204 booths. You could buy anything from clothes, jewelry, pottery, paintings, wood works, sculptures, glass pieces, and even boats. Unfortunately, nobody sold teddy bears, so I could not compare my furry friends to others. It was wonderful to see all the goods in this beautiful setting, among huge trees that provided shade in this heat. We were very thankful for the cooling relief these trees brought in this boiling heat.

We continued to the old core of the town, and I was enchanted by the old buildings. However, I found it rather strange that all stores were decorated for the Christmas season. Ingo told me that this was not unusual: many stores offered Christmas items in July as promotions. I had already noticed that every town seemed to have a shop that sold Christmas decorations throughout the year. Weird! How can you think about Christmas in the middle of summer?

However, I was intrigued, and wanted to see what Santa's Village was all about. I expected an idyllic Christmas town, and was understandably disappointed when I found out that it was just an amusement park. We did not visit it, but returned to the cottage. We did not go swimming again as the water of the lake, which is created due to a dam, was very low and dirty. The many motorboats had churned up the sand of the lake and left oil traces on the water surface and the sand. As much as motorboats look like fun for water skiers, they also are a big noise and water pollutant.

At night, we enjoyed being able to prepare a nice dinner by ourselves. Ingo made the main course and I the dessert. At twilight, I finally started a painting, sitting on the dock. The fast approaching darkness prevented me from finishing my piece, but I was quite happy with the beginnings, especially the water. I am pretty sure that I would think differently if I looked at the painting right now, even though I like to look at my older artworks, especially when I am struggling with a current one. They show me that I have indeed come a far way. I just wish I could find those pieces from that time. I usually hang on to more than I should keep, but I have not been able to find much from the early days in Canada. Maybe, I considered them not worth saving once I had done my first courses with the Ottawa School of Art.

old photo of one of my early acrylic paintings of the photo above

At night, a severe thunderstorm awakened us. The lightning was so strong that everything was as bright as day, however the light was surreal white. The storm howled, and in no time the windows were totally fogged up due to the big difference in temperature outside and inside. I had never experienced such a spectacle. Next, we lost power, another first for me.

When we woke up in the morning, the power was still gone, and even the phone was dead.
Ingo had never experienced the lack of phone service. All around the cottage there were lots of broken branches, but all the trees were still standing. Luckily, the cottage and our car were undamaged.

We decided to pack our stuff together with the help of a flashlight, and head home early. On our way back to Mississauga, we heard the first reports of the major storm. A tornado had even hit Orillia where it cleared the roofs of several houses and damaged cars. Trees were blocking roads everywhere. The whole Muskoka region was without power, some areas even for a couple of days. We were certainly happy to have come out of the storm without harm.

When we reached Mississauga, the weather was fantastic. The sun was shining brightly. It was not before the evening that a rather small storm reached the Greater Toronto Area. At the time, we were just biking along the Waterfront Trail towards Oakville, where we saw some of the biggest mansions I had ever seen. Each one looked like a palace. I could not believe the number of very rich people in Canada. In Germany, hardly anyone could afford living like this. Nowadays, I know some of the reasons, like the lack of space and the difference in construction materials and regulations. However, this is another topic in itself.

Thank you for following my journey of discovering Canada. I hope you will continue to follow my blog. If you know anyone who might be interested in my story, I would appreciate it if you would share my blog. Thank you in advance for helping me to increase my audience.

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Visit to the Nation's Capital

Blog 29

On July 11, 1995, Ingo and I set out for our first visit to Canada's capital, where Ingo had a job interview.

On the way, we stopped in Kingston. Interestingly, the landscape around Kingston was extremely dry. The grass was totally yellow and there were hardly any flowers. Nothing was left of the abundant vegetation we had seen on our way east.

When we arrived in Ottawa in the early evening hours, we had to find out that the historical bed and breakfast establishment I had picked out. It was totally booked except for the luxury room which we could not afford. However, the receptionist was very helpful in finding us another room. In the end, we stayed in the last available room at the “Parkway Motel”. The room was not great, especially because it was a smoking room right on the main street, but the hotels we could afford were pretty much all fully booked due to the holiday season.

We went sightseeing immediately. Luckily, we were just in time for a tour through the Parliament Building. I was in awe of the beauty of the architecture even though we could not see the main tower, the Peace Tower, which was under construction. The art inside of the building was as impressive, especially the Library. The Library of the Parliament is the only part of the original building that was saved during the fire of 1916. The wood panelling was just breathtaking. I was also fascinated by the paintings, glass pieces and sculptures.

After seeing Parliament Hill during the day, we also wanted to see the Sound and Light Show. Unfortunately, it got cancelled that evening, so we just strolled through the festively lit streets and drove by car along the Rideau Canal.

The next morning, Ingo had his interview and I went to the National Gallery of Canada. As Ingo lost his way during the busy traffic and ended up behind the guards marching to the Parliament Hill for the daily Changing the Guard Ceremony, I walked from the office building past the Houses of Parliament to the museum. I just caught the finish of the ceremony. I found it all very exciting. Next, I watched with great interest how two small boats maneuvered through the locks of the Rideau Canal. When I finally reached the National Gallery, I wanted to visit the special exhibition of the “The Queen's Pictures”, paintings by old masters from the collection of Queen Elizabeth II. The exhibition was very interesting and I took my time taking it all in. As I still had time, I also visited the modern galleries, especially works of the pop art and the Canadian art.

I was very impressed that the entry to the general collections was free of charge. Unfortunately, that has changed in the meantime, but I can understand that the upkeep of the museum and the works of art costs a lot of money.

When Ingo returned from his interview, he was in a very good mood. After he had almost forgotten his suit and shoes in Mississauga, and had to use my hair shampoo and razor to shave that morning because he had left his shaver behind, but he was very happy with the job the company had to offer. Luckily, we had another “2 for 1” coupon for McDonald's to celebrate the positive interview.

We left Ottawa in the direction for the Algonquin Park, where we wanted to hike before heading back to the cottage in Muskoka. On the way, we saw a roadside booth with fresh strawberries and seedless grapes. I felt such a craving for fresh food after all the fast food we had during the previous weeks.

Once at the Algonquin Park, we started out to visit the logging exhibit. However, the flies and mosquitoes were so aggressive, that we headed back to the car as fast as we could, dealing out blows right and left. We decided that a hike was out of the question. Instead, we visited the visitor centre, where we could learn interesting facts about the history of the park, the flora and fauna.

I was truly impressed with the presentation of the reconstructed habitats with taxidermied animals and artificial, but very natural-looking, plants. An audio guide and a documentary offered the explanations. We were so fascinated that we did not manage to see everything in the two hours until closing time. We even managed to see a huge moose from the observation deck – even though it was very far away. What an adventure for a city girl!

I was very impressed and hoped we would return for a hike, even though I was usually not very fond of hiking. It was already dark when we left the park. Only due to Ingo's fast reaction did we miss the raccoon that crossed the road – quite a severe danger due to the many wild animals. We decided to take the highway to reduce the risk.

Thank you for following my journey. To find out my first real cottage experience, please visit this page again next week.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Cottage Country

Blog 28

At the beginning of July 1995, I was finally introduced to the cottage country. However, the day of our trip was not one of my best days. Ingo and I had a couple of fights – living with Ingo's family without a place to retreat, and the increasing pressure of not finding a job made us more and more irritable. I felt trapped. There was nobody but Ingo around with whom I could have talked. I was ready to take the next flight and leave for Germany.

At the end, we decided that a couple of days at the Peters Cottage would be good for us. On the way, we stopped at the famous “Webers” restaurant where people are lining up for the burgers, especially on the weekends. The restaurant was so successful that they built a footbridge over the highway to make it possible for people coming from the opposite direction to access the restaurant. I was not too impressed with the burgers, but I guess the restaurant is such an institution that the quality of the food does not matter anymore.

When we reached the cottage, it was about 10:30 pm. Everything was pitch black, and the pouring rain did not make it very inviting. Even though Ingo turned on the light at the cottage, I did not see very much. We had to go down a steep set of stairs. I was packed with all kinds of stuff, including a glass bottle of water, a beauty case, a craft bag, and a teddy bear, and cursed for stepping into a puddle, when I suddenly slipped and slide down on my back and arms. My cry did probably scare away all wildlife in the area. Ingo came running. Fortunately, I had dropped everything and avoided even more injuries. Plus, nothing got damaged, not even the brand new pants I was wearing. Ingo treated me with ice packages while he tried to console me. Once the shock wore off, the pain increased even more. Ingo tried his best to distract me with old comics and a game of “Mensch ärgere dich nicht”, a German board game similar to Trouble”. It could all have been worse. I could have broken some bones, but for the next couple of weeks, I was in so much pain that I could neither walk nor sit or sleep properly.

Despite the wet and cold weather, we went to Bracebridge to visit the flea market, then the “Arts and Craft Show” where local painters and sculptors showed their creations. I was inspired to pick up my brushes again. There was lots to paint, if the weather had improved.

Instead, we visited the “16th Antique and Classic Boat Show” in Gravenhurst, where we saw everything from luxury yacht made out of mahogany to racing boats. According to what I heard from Ingo about the people owning cottages in the Muskoka region, I was not surprised to see such luxury.

I was not able to see much of these monster cottages, but I would get another chance during one of our next trips to the cottage. However, before I was able to see more of Muskoka, Ingo's job search brought us to Ottawa where he had his first interesting job interview.

Thank you for following my journey. While I will relax for at the cottage this week, my blog for next week is already scheduled. I hope you will return to read about my first discoveries in Ottawa.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Happy Canada Day!

Spring in Ottawa, acrylic, 11" x 14"

Blog 27

Happy Canada Day to all of you! I hope you will spend a terrific day celebrating Canada's 149th birthday with family and friends.

I spent my first ever Canada Day at a street festival in Streetsville, which is part of Mississauga. Everyone seemed to be on their feet. However, I was disappointed that there was just one burger booth and a live band playing. I was used to quite a different kind of street festival from Germany, where you would find one booth after another – an eclectic mixture of arts and crafts, kitsch, and lots of food. There would also be street performers and carousels for the kids.

We probably would have encountered more of the Canada Day experience if we had gone to Toronto, but I am not sure I could have handled the crowds of people.

I do not think I was fully aware of the significance of Canada Day for many Canadians who are celebrating “Canada's birthday”, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution Act of July 1, 1867. On this day, Canada became a new country within the British Empire.

The country-wide celebrations include lots of outdoor public events, such as parades, carnivals, festivals, barbecues, air and maritime shows, fireworks, and free musical concerts. Citizenship Ceremonies are held for new citizens.

I am still not a big fan of all the crowds and have avoided downtown Ottawa for the last ten years, even though I have to admit that I would be interested in some of the events taking place on Parliament Hill. Instead, I usually spend a quiet day at home before watching the fireworks of a smaller community east of Ottawa.

Germany does not have an equivalent holiday. Few Germans even know that May 23, 1949 was the day that the Federal Republic of Germany was founded. The day was never celebrated as an official holiday.

Instead, in 1954 West Germany established June 17 as a national holiday called "Day of German Unity", in memory of the 1953 East German rebellion. However, most Germans forgot the importance of this day and were just happy for an extra holiday.

It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German reunification that Germans celebrate the German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) on October 3, the date of formal reunification. It is a celebration of the attainment of the goal of a united Germany.

The selection of the date for the holiday was not an easy one due to the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall happened on November 9, which was also the day of the infamous “Kristallnacht” (The Night of the Broken Glass). On November 9, 1938, Jewish synagogues and shops were destroyed, and tens of thousands of Jews were removed to concentration camps.

The Day of German Unity is celebrated each year with a ceremonial act hosted habitually in the state capital of the German state that presides over the “Bundesrat” (Federal Council) in the respective year as well as with local festivals. However, you can in no way compare the festivities with the nationwide Canada Day celebrations where almost everyone takes part in the big party.

Have fun and celebrate today! I hope you will return next Friday to follow my experiences as a visitor of this diverse country.