Dear Canada

A love let­ter

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Vi­vian Vas­sos

Re­dis­cov­er­ing our home

OUR NA­TIONAL SPIRIT is em­bod­ied by our vast prairie lands and great lakes. And in our oceans from coast to coast to coast and the jagged moun­tains that climb high, dar­ing to touch the sky with their snow-white peaks.

About 100 years ago, a col­lec­tive of seven artists de­cided to doc­u­ment it all. Thick oil paints so rich with in­ten­sity – bo­real greens, snow­cap whites, lake blues and fiery or­anges com­ing to life on can­vas. The Group of Seven has a birth­day this year, cel­e­brated in Like a Vi­sion: the Group of Seven at 100, now on at the McMichael Art Gallery in Klein­burg, Ont., from which the paint­ings on these pages come to us.

Ice as smooth as glass, with just a hint of blue hue cool em­a­nat­ing from it still gives us the chills; burnt wood browns and stretches of blaz­ing yel­lows and reds punc­tu­at­ing the pines feed our warmth. A cen­tury of art. It con­tin­ues to stir us to catch our breath and dis­cover the ever­green beauty of our land­scape. It in­spires thoughts of trav­el­ling again, ex­plor­ing this land be­fore we go fur­ther afield once more.

Out­ward from our na­tion’s cap­i­tal threads a water­way so his­toric it’s been deemed a UNESCO World Her­itage site. A tes­ta­ment to hu­man in­ge­nu­ity, the Rideau Water­way’s se­ries of tra­vers­a­ble canals and locks from Ottawa to Kingston still stand as a bril­liant ex­am­ple of our early 19th-cen­tury chutz­pah. Slow travel by boat along this Cana­dian trea­sure. Loons call­ing, great blue herons fishing and pere­grine fal­cons swoop­ing only add to the scenery. It leaves us awestruck.

Once we were given the green light in On­tario to spend more time with our so­cial bub­ble, I ran for this river with a con­stant travel com­pan­ion. Ac­tu­ally, it’s more than a river. The Rideau Water­way com­prises canals and locks, lakes, tiny pine tree­dot­ted is­lands and forested shores lined with cot­tages, cab­ins and boathouses. The wa­ter is sparkling, crys­tal clear. And there were nearly no ac­tive cases of COVID-19 in the area.

We can travel by train again, and Via Rail has daily ser­vice to our stop: Smiths Falls. The town is just out­side Ottawa, along the Rideau, and is the

North Amer­i­can HQ for Le Boat, a Euro­pean com­pany that fea­tures yacht-type house­boats that ply the rivers of France, the U.K., Hol­land and Italy – and, since 2018, Canada.

At the train sta­tion, we’re asked a se­ries of ques­tions (any fever, cough or dif­fi­culty breath­ing?) and or­ga­nized into dif­fer­ent cars, depend­ing on our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. Every­one must wear a mask the en­tire time while on board. If you don’t have one, the train con­duc­tors will of­fer it to you, with a pair of tongs, only touch­ing the strings to main­tain as lit­tle con­tact as pos­si­ble. And seat­ing is ar­ranged so phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing can be ad­hered to. Un­less you’re trav­el­ling to­gether, you can’t sit next to any­one else.

We had ar­ranged a car ser­vice – the driver was masked – to take us to the neigh­bour­ing her­itage town of Mer­rickville-Wol­ford, all gor­geous stone Vic­to­rian houses-turned-bou­tiques and restau­rants. Lunch was in an open court­yard, with ta­bles dis­tanced at least three me­tres apart, and our server wore a clear vi­sor. Nice, as we could see her smile, but still felt pro­tected.

No car? No prob­lem. While still on the train, we went on­line and or­dered gro­ceries from the lo­cal store for de­liv­ery. Le Boat, too, of­fers a shop­ping ser­vice for non­per­ish­ables, so the pantry was al­ready stocked when we ar­rived. (But if you need other sup­plies, ev­ery­thing is within walk­ing dis­tance of the marina.) On check­ing in, we were of­fered hand-sewn cot­ton masks, and there is hand san­i­tizer on the boat. Cab­ins come with en­suite baths, so no shar­ing, and freshly laun­dered linens and tow­els were folded and wait­ing for us to make our own beds. I didn’t mind; it made me feel bet­ter know­ing the linens were un­touched.

We have a train­ing ses­sion on how to drive our Hori­zon Cruiser (no ex­pe­ri­ence or li­cence re­quired, but know­ing how to drive a car helps). It’s rec­om­mended you don’t go more than about seven kilo­me­tres an hour, and we’re es­corted through the first lock. Then we were off. We did all our own cook­ing and cock­tail-mak­ing, so we were able to con­trol when and what we ate; how far we trav­elled and where we stopped for the night.

Re­gain­ing the sense of free­dom and watch­ing this gor­geous part of our coun­try pass by, we’re se­cure in our bub­ble. Drift­ing along with the loons float­ing nearby and the herons and fal­cons soar­ing over­head was the ul­ti­mate.

About now, the corn­fields in the East and on the Prairies are stretch­ing sky­ward, soon to give us their gift of gold. Fresh-picked from the farm, boiled or bar­be­cued, the ker­nels soaked in but­ter, run­ning down our fin­gers and our chins as we take the first bite. The taste of late sum­mer. Sweet.

The chill is al­ready in the air over the At­lantic, with the winds bring­ing au­tumn. The ice­bergs have re­treated, giv­ing the whales and dol­phins and the fish­er­men, too, a wider berth among the waves. The Jelly­bean Row Houses of St. John’s glow and show off their colours in the fall sun­set, re­flect­ing the vi­brancy of this town and its peo­ple.

The tides of the Bay of Fundy ebb and flow like nowhere else – the high­est recorded in the world. To stand on theo­cean­floor,squishy­mud­be­tween our toes and weave our way through the Hopewell Rocks in the morn­ing, only to kayak around the ex­act same rocks in the afternoon – it’s like walk­ing on wa­ter. A nat­u­ral won­der of North Amer­ica. And it’s ours.

The skies over Jasper Na­tional

Park in Al­berta are a won­der in their own right, a dark sky pre­serve that’s counted as the sec­ond largest in the world. Look up when night falls and, on a clear night, you can see for­ever.

Our age is show­ing but in a very good way. The more than 400-yearold citadel that is Que­bec City still stands on guard, nary a crum­ble in the walls of stone, nary a tum­ble on the cob­ble­stones that have seen so much his­tory. Not bad for one of the con­ti­nent’s old­est towns. There’s a joie de vivre here that helps main­tain its youth­ful­ness. It brought us the Bon­homme, af­ter all. And no one does win­ter quite like this city. When the chill sets in, skate parks and un­der­passes turn into ice-skat­ing rinks and gi­ant snow slides. Hol­low walk­ing sticks have just enough space to store a shot or two of warm­ing booze in their caps. Mais oui!

What’s in a name? Ni­a­gara. An an­gli­cized de­riv­a­tive of the Iro­quoian word On­guiaahra, to Mer­riam-Web­ster, it means an over­whelm­ing flood or a tor­rent. To me, it says awe­some. Power. Beauty. A force to be reck­oned with and a fa­mil­iar sym­bol of our fight to re­main in­de­pen­dent from our neigh­bours to the south, a nearly im­preg­nable bor­der­line of ma­jes­tic might. It doesn’t hurt ei­ther that the good earth near the falls gives us vine­yards and or­chards burst­ing with fruit – and wine.

Here, I give you a few more names that show the in­flu­ences of our cul­ture. Louise, Vic­to­ria, Regina, all re­gal nods to our con­nec­tion to the Bri­tish Monar­chy. Blend in en français: Mon­treal or Portage la Prairie. Nu­navut and Iqaluit, both words from Inuk­ti­tut, the lan­guage of our Inuit peo­ple. Toss in a gen­er­ous hand­ful of names with In­dige­nous (On­tario, Saskatchew­an) and First Na­tions ori­gins for nearly ev­ery­where else (Toronto, Medicine Hat, Yel­lowknife) and the quirky –

Come by Chance, Joe Batt’s Arm or Vul­can – oh! stop me now be­cause I can go on.

The Okana­gan, too, is a bounty. A cor­nu­copia of grapes, fruits and veg­gies and the chefs that know just what to do with it all. Among the warmest places in the coun­try, this B.C. desert-like val­ley is also home to a leg­end. Ogo­pogo, Okana­gan Lake’s res­i­dent mon­ster, is no doubt a dis­tant cousin of Nessie.

Speak­ing of mon­sters, a par­tic­u­lar lob­ster pulled from the Nova Sco­tia waters – where about a quar­ter of the coun­try’s crus­taceans come from – clocked in at about 44 pounds. But don’t be fright­ened. The ones you’re crack­ing from the shell are prob­a­bly closer to about 1.5 pounds. And I rec­om­mend the but­ter, also sweet.

Among the fairest sweets is our Anne of Green Gables, the Prince Ed­ward Is­land pixie, cre­ated by Lucy Maud Mont­gomery in 1908. Still 11 years old in our hearts, she never gets old and is adored the world over. I did say we age very well. Not far from Anne’s is­land home is Char­lot­te­town, where in 1864 the seeds of Con­fed­er­a­tion were planted. A few years later, Canada be­gan to bloom.

It was around about that time that a dif­fer­ent kind of gold, the hard, shiny kind, was dis­cov­ered in the north. Flow­ing up­ward from B.C.’s Fraser River, the sparkly stuff was struck in the Klondike, Yukon. We were re­ally on the map, now.

And about all that wa­ter. Truly one of our coun­try’s great­est gifts. It’s our lakes, more than 30,000 great and small that bind us. We’ve also got the Pa­cific, the Arc­tic and the At­lantic. A lone kayaker slices through the still sur­face of Hud­son Bay, near Churchill, Man., home of the po­lar bears. Another fig­ure cuts through the wa­ter, like a pale shadow, and comes along­side. It’s not a bear, nor is it a ghost. It’s a bel­uga, com­ing up to say hello.

ABOVE: F.H. Var­ley (1881-1969) | Early Morn­ing, Sphinx Moun­tain | c. 1928 | oil on can­vas | 119.4 x 139.8 cm | Pur­chase 1972 | 1972.11 BE­LOW LEFT: Lawren S. Har­ris (1885-1970) | Ellesmere Is­land | c. 1930 | oil on board | 30.4 x 37.7 cm (11 15/16 x 14 13/16 in.) | Gift of Mrs. Ch­ester Har­ris, McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion | 1981.40.2 BE­LOW RIGHT: J.E.H. Mac­Don­ald (1873-1932) | Nova Sco­tian Shore 1923 | oil on pa­per­board | 21.5 x 26.4 cm | Gift of Mrs. Doris H. Speirs, McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion | 1969.18.2

ABOVE: A.J. Cas­son (1898-1992) | Lit­tle Is­land | 1965 | oil on can­vas | 75.5 x 88.5 cm (29 3/4 x 34 13/16 in.) | Do­nated by Miss Adele E.G. Curry and Dr. B.H. Gay­lord Curry, McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion | 1998.4 BE­LOW LEFT: Ed­win Hol­gate (1892-1977) | Baie des Mou­tons, Look­ing North­ward | c. 1930 | oil on can­vas | 63.3 x 76.1 cm | Pur­chase 1986 | 1986.34 BE­LOW RIGHT: A.Y. Jack­son (1882-1974) Al­berta Foothills | 1937 | oil on can­vas | 64 x 81.2 cm | Gift of the Founders, Robert and Signe McMichael, McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion | 1971.13.8 OP­PO­SITE: L.L. FitzGer­ald (1890-1956) | Prairie | c.1921 | oil on can­vas, laid down on pa­per­board | 18.2 x 22.2 cm Gift of The Robert and Signe McMichael Trust, McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion | 2011.2.15

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