Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Royal Visit: June 28-29, 2010

Born on 21 April 1926 in London, to The Duke and Duchess of York (who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), Elizabeth Alexandra Mary married the Greek Prince, Lietenant Philip Mountbatten on 20 November 1947. After becoming Queen of England on 6 February 1952, she did some other stuff. Then finally, on 28 July 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II came to Canada for the 22nd time, and I was there to see her.

While the weather the day before had been wonderful, God decided to frown upon Nova Scotia this day, and it seemed as though a hurricane was trying to blow through Halifax. Undaunted, I braved the torrential down pour, and gale force winds, to stand on a soggy hillside with the other "unworthies", as we waited for our chance to catch a glimpse of the ever present security guards huddled around Her Majesty The Queen.

Finally, after two hours of shivering, and a live interview on SRC television, I finally got my "once-in-a-lifetime" chance to wave at her from afar. And boy was it worth it. She spoke French and English better than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and she was a model of grace and class, which we would all do well to copy. She truly loves Canada, and works tirelessly for the Empire, essentially for free (contrary to popular ignorance, "your tax dollars" do not go to Britain or The Queen).

(The pipes and drums of the 78th Highlanders enter the grounds.)

(Military band playing O Canada, while shots from the 21-gun salute continue to fire.)

(A Mi'kmaq elder greeting Her Majesty with a prayer. I apologize for the out of focus camera work. However, I can guarantee you won't see footage like this on CBC any time soon.)

(Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomes Her Majesty to Canada. He even tries to says "Canadar" like a British person. Am I the only person who thinks this speech makes it sound like neither English or French is a first language for the PM?)

(Her Majesty The Queen gives a moving speech to those courageous and freezing souls who braved the elements to hear her speak.)

(Her Majesty, in the yellow hat, greeting visitors.)

(Her Majesty handing flowers to an aide, who in turn will hand them to a second aide. This is the only clear shot of The Queen's face I managed to capture.)

(Members of the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers taking their horses out to go poop on the side-walks.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Canadian Navy Centennial and International Fleet Review Week: June 28 - July 2, 2010

The Canadian Navy came into existence on May 4, 1910, when the Naval Service Act became law. Some simple maths will show that this year, 2010, is exactly 100 years after the Navy's 1910 founding.

In honour of this historic occasion, Halifax (as one of the few cities in Canada with a Naval base) is hosting the first International Fleet Review Week in 25 years. Over 28 ships, and 5 000 sailors from Canada, America, Britain, France, Brazil, Denmark, and many more countries will be in Halifax this week for the festivities. Also, as a special bonus, Her Majesty The Queen will be coming to Canada this year for a Royal Visit, and will be giving a rare Royal Review of some of the ships.

In addition to the much needed boost to Canada's Navy, this International Fleet Review Week also offers an extremely rare occasion for members of the public to be able to board some of the ships, and take tours at their leisure. When I asked one of the sailors of the HMCS Athabaskan destroyer for his thoughts on the security risk caused by this event, he told me, "we're not too worried; we have lots of fire power out there" (pointing behind him to the many small motor boats whirring around the harbour carrying machine gun armed guards).

The biggest draw of the week is definitely the absolutely massive American aircraft carrier, the USS Wasp. Unfortunately, tours of this ship closed earlier than the others when I was at the Harbour, and I was not able to board. I heard from others though, that the steps necessary to pass the security procedures before boarding the ship were worse than those at American airports, while my experience with the security check to get on the HMCS Athabaskan included nothing more than putting a name tag on my backpack and leaving it under a guarded tent.

(The buskers were out in full force along the Board Walk for the wonderful weather on Sunday.)

(Even the kids were trying to get in on the money.)

(Here's a sister act...)

(Which appears to be a family business. A quick glance in the change bucket showed the four sisters were making more than enough money to buy an entire ice cream truck worth of frozen milk treats.)

(The dancing girls were also out, warming up for Canada Day just around the corner.)

(The HMCS Athabaskan, an air-defence destroyer, docked at Halifax Harbour.)

(Standing on the deck at the front of the HMCS Athabaskan.)

(Canada's Naval Memorial, "The Last Corvette", HMCS Sackville. This was the fastest ship in the Canadian Navy during World War II, and its main job was to escort cargo ships and larger battle ships across the Atlantic, while it sought out and attempted to destroy the infamous German U-boats. The interesting paint scheme is actually the original design of the HMCS Sackville. A sailor on board informed me that the design made the ship look like waves on the ocean, while the contrasting colours distorted the depth perception of the enemy's tracking equipment.)

(On HMCS Sackville, shooting Nazis.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Membertou 400 Festival: June 25-27, 2010

When French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, arrived in the area of Canada known as Acadia, back in the early 1600s, the Chief of the local First Nations people was a man called Membertou. Membertou was a great and wise chief who was also exceptionally friendly and welcoming. He not only welcomed the French immigrants with open arms, but in a show of incredible good will and friendship, he and twenty members of his family agreed to be baptised in to the Catholic faith on June 24, 2010. This "adoption" of Christianity marked the beginning of 150 years of strategic friendship and alliance between the French and the Micmaq people in Atlantic Canada.

This weekend marks the 400th anniversary of that historic event, and to celebrate the spirit of sharing and openness that made Membertou and his band of Mikmaq people famous, a gigantic three day free outdoor festival was scheduled to take place on the Halifax Commons.

The Membertou 400 Festival contains three days of cultural education, story telling, singing, drumming, dancing, concerts, and an opportunity to purchase authentic jewellery, art, and other items made by local Mikmaq artists and craftsmen/women. The festival is also the largest of its kind ever to be held in Atlantic Canada, and is the realization of a life-long dream for many of those people involved in its creation and development.

(Each of the women's jingle dresses has 365 bells on it. They are incredibly heavy, and take an inordinately long time to sew on.)

(John Lafford, a Mikmaq from Eskasoni, starts the construction of an authentic wigwam. Over the course of the Festival, Lafford and his team will use the original materials and methods of wigwam making to give visitors a first-hand look at what it took to erect one of these traditional Mikmaq dwellings.)

(Hide tanner, Joe Googoo, prepares a bear skin for tanning. The process takes Joe roughly eight days, but he told me that the ancient Mikmaq people could tan a hide in only three.)

(A young Haligonian tries his hand at the traditional Mikmaq game called Waltes. The wooden dish is made out of rock maple, takes a week to carve, and costs $800. The point of the game is to try to bang the dish on the ground in an attempt to flip the bone discs over. Depending on the way in which the bones land - face up or face down - a player can win points, represented by the wooden sticks beside the bowl. Later, the players can force other players to "pay them" some of their sticks. Depending on the way the bones fall, a game of Waltes can last anywhere from five minutes to five days.)

(Local Mikmaq artist Stephen Quellet works on an original painting he'll most likely sell for over $3000, judging by the price of his other works.)

(Aw man! Why are the Mounties always pickin' on me? I wasn't doin' nothin', ya hear me? Nothin'!)

I singled out Friday, June 25, as my day to attend the Membertou 400 Festival, because of a one day only free outdoor live concert being given by Golden Globe and Acadamy Award winning, 3-Time Juno Award winning, and Governor General of Canada's Lifetime Acheivement Award winning rock/folk/country singing dynamo, Buffy St. Marie (visit her excellent website here).

Most people at 69 years old would be at home complaining about their joints, but Buffy St. Marie has a new album and is out touring with a live show that would put some artists, one-third of her age, to shame. Her works like "Up Where We Belong," "Until It's Time For You To Go," and many others, have been been covered by the likes of Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Janis Joplin. However, the song I really wanted to see her sing was her famous 1964 anti-war song "Universal Soldier", and I did see it, and now you can see it too, thanks to the video I shot (below).

Another highlight of the weekend, was the absolutely massive competition powwow. Not only was it the largest competition powwow, with some dancers competing for cash prizes, ever held in Atlantic Canada, but it was so popular that the stands were overflowing, and anyone who did not come twenty minutes early had to sit between the stands, or even inside the ring. Needless to say, the event organizers were thrilled with the popularity of the event in which dancers, drummers and singers travel from all over Canada and even the United States came to participate.

(Grand Entrance, and start to the Powwow on Friday. Note the poor Mounties attempting to bounce awkwardly in time with the drumming.)

(A quick video from the inter-tribal warm-up to Friday's Powwow.)

(Another video from the inter-tribal. Some of the women are wearing incredibly heavy "jingle dresses" with 365 bells on them; one for every day of the year.)

I enjoyed the festivities, and the historic, once-in-a-lifetime moment to share in what is likely the proudest moment in many of the participants lives, so much that I stayed outside on the Commons the entire day, right up until the dancing finished around midnight. I was even more impressed that from 1 PM until midnight, every single event ran exactly on schedule, with one event starting the second the previous event finished. It was an incredible display of punctuality not usually seen in Canada, and one that all future HRM event organizers would do well to take note of and copy for their own events.

In conclusion, I will never forget my experiences at this exceptional event, and wish to thank the organizers, as well as the city of Halifax, and the province of Nova Scotia for helping to make it a reality. Here's hoping more great Mikmaq/First Nations events can be seen in Halifax, and around Canada, in the future.

(Colourful teepees on the Commons at night.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Interesting Person #2: Chang-geun Lee

Chang-geun Lee came to Canada from South Korea 7 months ago to study English. I met him outside the Subway on Spring Garden Road. He told me that he was on a journey from Toronto, through Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, up to Newfoundland, and then back to Toronto. He couldn't have been more friendly. When I later told Chris Waldron about Chang-geun's proposed journey, while he was in the last fifteen minutes of an 8 hour ride, his jaw dropped in amazement at the staggering distances he would have ridden each day over the last month. Follow Chang-geun's journey on his blog here.

Random Halifax Picture #2

Reason #4 why I hate BellAliant.

HRM Point of Interest #2: Deadman's Island Historic Park

Originally referred to as Target Island by the members of the British military who used it for practising their cannon shooting accuracy, Deadman's Island isn't actually an island at all, it's more of a peninsula located in Halifax Harbour. During the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815, and the War of 1812, the British military interred prisoners of war on the nearby Melville Island.

(That bit of land that juts out on the top-right of the picture is Deadman's Island.)

In the 1990s, because of a land battle over the proposed development of a condominium over the area, local residents who feared their view of the water might be obstructed, enlisted the help of natural historians to research the area.

By looking back over various soldier's diaries, it was estimated that some 195 American soldiers were buried on the "island" in unmarked graves, having succumbed to various diseases while imprisoned on Melville Island. In a great victory for history, the developer withdrew his claim to the land, the city of Halifax bought the area, and in 2000 it was turned into a park for the enjoyment of all.

(The lovely view that the local residents did not want jeopardized by the development of condominiums on the "island".)

(A plaque on Deadman's Island commemorating the 195 "forgotten" American prisoners of war who were buried in unmarked graves on the peninsula during the War of 1812.)

Interesting Person #1: Chris Waldron

Chris Waldron a local cyclist who is training for a 430 km Coast to Coast mountain bike race through the tropical rain forests and over 11 000 metres worth of volcanic mountains in Costa Rica this November. On this day I saw him training outside the South Park Street YMCA where I go swimming, and where Chris used to hang out every Saturday morning as a child.

Over he course of several 8 hour stationary training sessions like this one, Chris hopes to help raise the $10 000 he pledged to donate towards YMCA's Strong Kids program. I gave him $2 because I was trying to stretch my budget as far as it would go at the moment, but the next time I see him I hope to be able to donate more.

As well as being incredibly fit, Chris Waldron is also an all-around nice guy, and he was gracious enough to chat with me for several minutes even during the final minutes of his gruelling 8 hour training session on this day.

To read more about Chris Waldron, his cause, or to donate, visit his website here.

Random Halifax Picture #1

It's always a pleasant surprise to walk down a street in a major city and see a horse grazing along the side of the road.

HRM Point of Interest #1: Halifax Commons

Originally a lightly forested swampy region, this large grassy area is known popularly today as "The Commons". It was cleared in 1749 by the original settlers of Canada, which today makes it Canada's oldest urban park. The original purpose for creating the grassy area was mainly military (the Citadel fort is just to the south of The Commons), as the army did not want invading troops to be able to hide in the trees. Today though, it is one of Halifax's most popular outdoor recreation areas.

While recent development has cut the park's original area in half, it is still large enough to hold several baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a skate park, an outdoor swimming pool, to name just a few of the myriad facilities currently present.

It also plays host to major outdoor concerts, including recent performances by Paul McCartney, Keith Urban, KISS, and The Rolling Stones. Prince Charles and Princess Diana made a visit to The Commons on their 1983 Royal Tour, and Pope John Paul II drew 80 000 people when he visited The Commons in 1984.

(Children playing in the relatively new skate park. Some older residents I interviewed resent the concrete replacement to what used to be a peaceful pond.)

(A friendly city cricket league match.)

(A scene from a Hockey Night In Canada Play On! 4-on-4 National street hockey tournament game held in the commons on June 19, 2010. This particular game was being played on a city street between the North and Central Commons, that was closed down for the tournament.)

(Touch football league game.)

(I'm not sure what this guy is doing, but a number of these "hoopers", as I call them. gather in The Commons to practice their acrobatics, whilst spinning a large, heavy hula-hoop around their body/limbs.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

25th Annual Greek Fest: June 10-13, 2010

Opa! It's the weekend of June 10-14, 2010, and the festival season has officially begun in Halifax now that Greek Fest is here. Celebrating Greek culture, dance, food and drink, and music, Greek Fest offers a chance for people to be "Greek for a day", as well acting as a fund-raiser for the local Greek churches.

(Being Greek for a day is what this weekend was all about. Although, with the recent economic crisis in that country, I think a day is all anyone could handle right now.)

($2 gave you the chance to hammer a soccer ball as hard as you could three times at a young punk teenager. Isn't Greek Fest great?)

The first Greek Fest was held back in 1986, and with an average of 30 000 people attending each year, the organizers decided that three days just wasn't enough Opa! Subsequently, this year's 25th Anniversary Edition offers an extra day of festivities, and it is expected that the number of visitors will increase to 40 000. With 500 volunteers signed up this year, it is one of the largest festivals in Atlantic Canada.

(Everyone was at Greek Fest this year, even the rare and elusive Pink Tiger, seen here eating its favourite treat, ice cream.)

The main attraction at Greek Fest is obviously the amazing food, served up by the authentic Greek Mammas. To add to the experience though, performances by the Ottawa band, Poseidon, as well as Halifax's best Greek dancers (see videos below) could be seen at various times throughout the festival.

(Is that Doug Edey? Sorry, Grande Prairie joke.)

This year, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff decided he needed to hit the "barbecue circuit" early, and I was able to catch a few pictures of him as his aides made him rush through his meal, and then kiss as many babies as possible, before whisking him off to his next appointment.

(The poor guy couldn't even eat in peace without the papparazzos sticking their camera in his face.)

(This may have wrecked Mr. Ignatieff's knees, but at least the kid's parents were able to put their son and the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in an uncomfortable position for no good reason.)