Friday, February 25, 2011

EP Road Trip #3: Sugar Moon Farm

Recently I started volunteering at the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs. When I signed up I was told about a trip the Centre was taking to the Sugar Moon Farm in Englishtown. It's been a while since I've been on a Road Trip, so I was quite excited, and even more so when I heard it was a maple farm.

(The Sugar Moon Farm is located at one of the highest elevations in Nova Scotia, so the amount of snow it receives is exponentially greater than what I'm used to seeing in Halifax.)

While there are roughly 150 varieties of maple trees in the world, the Sugar Maple is the preferred species for making syrup because of its high sugar content. The Sugar Maple is native to the north-eastern United States and eastern Canada, which means this is the only region in the world that has the climate necessary for producing maple syrup.

Maple Sugaring is not a particularly new art form. In fact, First Nations people were slashing trees and collecting sap in birch bark buckets thousands of years before European settlers arrived. The European settlers though, were responsible for advancing the form to the more efficient drilling/tapping process used today.

(Our guide explains the early sap collecting process.)

Efficiency is a relative term I suppose, since sugar maple sap is 97% water. This means that you can easily drink it, but it also means that 40 Litres of sap must be evaporated to make 1 Litre of pure maple syrup. Furthermore, it means that one tree can only sustainably produce 1 Litre of syrup per year (sap only runs for a few weeks during the early spring).

(The brand new evaporator the farm installed this year.)

After the tour we received a free all-you-can-eat pancake lunch with pork sausages and veggie beans. I kindly helped the kitchen staff clean up by finishing off the leftovers to save on waste.

My favourite part of the tour was rolling maple sugar in the snow to make candy. The boiling hot, liquid maple sugar is ladled onto snow, and a popsicle stick is used to roll the quickly solidifying sugar into a lollipop-like treat.

I wanted to conclude this post by giving a big thank-you to the YMCA for allowing me to come along on the trip. It was a unique experience, and I look forward to many more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Random Halifax Picture #15

A friend of mine told me that the owner of this house must certainly be from Newfoundland, since she saw many houses there that had decorated their mail boxes like this. Mailboxes like this are few and far between in Halifax, but they're always a treat to find, if you do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Iranian Freedom Demonstration: February 14, 2011

I don't pretend to be an expert on Iranian affairs, but I know from what I've heard on the news, and what I've heard from my Iranian friends, that the situation is not good there. Essentially the people want their freedom, but the government would rather kill its people than provide them with happiness (that may be an oversimplification of matters).

While walking down town on Valentine's Day, I came across this demonstration set up at the entrance to the Public Gardens (obviously). I asked a one of the demonstrators what was going on and she more or less relayed to me the information I explained in the first paragraph.

I asked her how I could help and she begged me to let people know that the Iranians are not bad people, and that they want freedom just like we enjoy here in Canada. She was so emotional about the plight of her country's people that she started crying on the street. I consoled her by telling her I would do my best to spread the word.

Please do my sad friend a favour and at the very least research about what is going on in Iran, so that perhaps you will be moved on some level to do what you can also to help spread awareness of the plight of the Iranian people. Thank you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Canada Winter Games: February 11 - 27, 2011

After months and months of advertising and preparation (probably years) the 2011 Canada Winter Games have started. The largest multi-sport winter event for young Canadian athletes, the Canada Winter Games are held every four years in a different province or territory across Canada. The Canada Winter Games are like a mini-Olympics, with the strictly amateur athletes competing for their province/territory in a variety of different sports ranging from judo to wheelchair basketball to snowboarding.

I had the privilege of volunteering at the Canada Winter Games in 1995, when I lived in Grande Prairie, Alberta. It's interesting now to have another chance to experience the games as a spectator some fifteen years later.

(Yes, you're right, the mascots for the Halifax Games are Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retrievers. That's very clever of you to notice.)

I'm breaking form here by writing about the Games while they're still ongoing, but since I'm too cheap to buy a ticket for any of the other events, I had to settle for watching the only free event I could access without a car - the long track speed skating competitions at the outdoor oval.

Long track speed skating has many events, ranging from 100 metres, to 3000 metres. With the oval being 400 metres in circumference, a 3000 metre race entails skating around the rink seven and a half exhausting laps at high speed. Considering a fast 3000 metre time for a male is four and a half minutes, and the body starts creating lactic acid well before twenty five seconds into a race of that kind, you can imagine how painful it must be for the athletes.

(Have you ever noticed how the winner never looks quite as tired as the loser, even though they've raced the same race and the loser, in a sense, worked less hard?)

(After a hard half-hour of watching others exert themselves, it's nice to be able to spend $6 on a messy, sloppy, calorie packed pastry, that will likely spill all over you or on the ground, before you get a chance to eat any of it. Beaver Tails: A Canadian original.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Random Halifax Picture #14

Lately the weather has been a tad bit on the blizzardy side here in Halifax. I thought I'd remind myself of warmer days by posting this picture of a woman making a snow bear for a snow sculpture contest outside of the RCMP building near my home. Unfortunately it rained the day after this picture was taken and the bear was washed away.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

HRM Point of Interest #21: Outdoor Oval

Later this month, some many hundreds of the best amateur athletes in Canada will arrive in Halifax for the 2011 Canada Winter Games. In preparation for this, the city of Halifax built a massive outdoor long track speed skating oval, the circumference of which being larger than the length of three football fields.

Since the oval was built on the Commons, the city decided to provide a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for the citizens of Halifax to lace up a pair of skates and skate on an Olympic sized speed skating oval for free.

7 days a week, from... well, at least before Christmas, until just before the Games start on February 11 the city of Halifax has/will open up the oval (with its own Zamboni) to the public. There are even free skating lessons offered daily, and free helmet and skate rentals too.

From my understanding, the city of Halifax had planned to make this a one time affair. However, the response from the citizens of Halifax has been so overwhelming, that various aldermen have supported making the oval a permanent winter fixture on the Commons.

I, for one, couldn't be more in favour of such a move. While I was skating on the oval a few weeks ago, there were at least 300 other people on the ice, not including the 500 other people waiting to get skates, drinking hot chocolate, or simply resting.

Not only would it be a fantastic use of a public space that is otherwise wasted during the winter months, but it's also an obviously effective way of getting citizens to be more active (in a country where this is badly needed). In fact, I'm prepared to make an EP Declaration right now, that this is the best use of public funds by a city, ever!