Sunday, 29 June 2008

My Town Monday - Laura Ingersoll Secord

My post takes place 75 miles (120km) south-west of Toronto near Niagara Falls during the War of 1812.


The Secord Homestead in Queenston was reconstructed in 1971 by Laura Secord Inc. Open for tours during the summer months, the Homestead features authentic furnishings of the 1812 period. The company's signature chocolates and ice cream are available in an annex building, which was built on the spot thought to be the location of the original summer kitchen.

These playing cards located in the parlor of the James and Laura Secord home had moral lessons’ on the bottom because folks in the late 1700s and early 1800s considered card playing immoral.

The Parlor

Laura Ingersoll Secord, born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (September 13, 1775 to October 17, 1868) was a Canadian heroine of the War of 1812. Suffering the aftermath of the American Revolution, her father, Thomas Ingersoll, moved the family to Canada in 1795, and in 1797 she married the Loyalist James Secord, son of an officer of Butler's Rangers (the Ingersolls themselves were not Loyalists). James and Laura resided in Queenston in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), while her family went on to settle present day Ingersoll, Ontario. On October 13, 1812, James Secord was injured at the Battle of Queenston Heights, part of the emerging War of 1812.

In June of 1813 the American army invaded again and the Secord home was forced to billet American officers. Laura became aware of plans for a surprise attack on troops led by British Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon at Beaver Dams, which would have furthered American control in the Niagara Peninsula. While her husband was still suffering the effects of his injury, Laura set out to warn Lieutenant Fitzgibbon herself. She walked approximately 30 km from present day Queenston through St. David's, Homer, St. Catharines and Short Hills at the Niagara Escarpment before arriving at the camp of allied Native warriors who led her the rest of the way to Fitzgibbon's headquarters at the Decew home. A small British force and a larger contingent of Mohawk warriors were then readied for the American attack with the result that almost all of the American soldiers were taken prisoner in the ensuing Battle of Beaver Dams.

Over the years, Laura Secord and James Fitzgibbon petitioned the government in request of some kind of acknowledgment but to no avail. Finally, in 1860, when Laura was 85, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), heard of her story while travelling in Canada. While stopped in Chippawa near Niagara Falls, he was made aware of Laura's heroics and her plight as an aging widow and later sent an award of £100. It was the only recognition that she received in her lifetime.

Laura Ingersoll Secord died in 1868 at age 93 at the Village of Chippawa (today part of Niagara Falls, Ontario).
Laura and her husband attended Holy Trinity Church in Chippawa where their grave markers are presently located, as well as a few relics of the family. Laura and James are buried in Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario at a monument (with a bust of Laura on top) close to that marking the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

In 2003, Laura Secord was designated a Person of National Historic Significance by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, for her heroic actions during the War of 1812.

Laura Secord is a Canadian chocolatier and ice cream company which was founded in 1913 by Frank P. O'Connor. It was named after the Canadian War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord. As of 2006, it has 148 retail outlets across the country. The Laura Secord chocolates are manufactured in Canada by Ganong Bros. Retail outlets selling individual and premade boxes of chocolates, and ice cream, are located throughout Canada.

A story of Laura Secord is not complete without a visit to Niagara Falls.


The name “Niagara” is said to originate from an Iroquois word "Onguiaahra" meaning "Thunder of Waters". The region's original inhabitants were the Ongiara, an Iroquois tribe named the Neutrals by French settlers, who found them helpful in mediating disputes with other tribes.

The name is derived from its curving, horseshoe-shaped crest that is 671 meters (2,200 ft) in width. At the center of the Horseshoe Falls the water is about 3 meters (10 ft) deep. It passes over the crest at a speed of about 32 km/h (20 mph). The falls is 53 meters (173 ft) high, has an average crest elevation of 152 meters (500 ft) and faces northwards. The depth of the river at the base of the falls is actually higher than the falls itself, estimated at 56 metres (184 ft).

There are the daredevils who tempted their fate by going over the falls in various manufactured barrels, but the best story is known as “Miracle at Niagara” from Wikipedia:

“Roger Woodward, a seven-year-old American boy, was swept over the Horseshoe Falls protected only by a life vest on July 9, 1960, as two tourists pulled his 17-year-old sister Deanne from the river only 20 feet (6 m) from the lip of the Horseshoe Falls at Goat Island. Minutes later, Roger was plucked from the roiling plunge pool beneath the Horseshoe Falls after grabbing a life ring thrown to him by the crew of the Maid of the Mist boat. His survival, which no one thought possible, made news throughout the world.”

My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at where he links other posts from around the globe.

Research: Wikipedia, Niagara Parks
Photo Credits: [1] Laura Secord House: Ken Lund CC=sa-flickr; Parlor and playing cards: cameraphone; monument in Queenston: bill_canada CC=nc-flickr; Ottawa Memorial statue: wikipedia; chocolates: LexnGer CC=nc-flickr.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Going to the Sun Highway

This post was prompted unknowingly by Mary Witzl, who commented in the previous post about trips through the Rockies, and by Linda McLaughlin recalling her mother's fear of heights.


For a stunning mountain panorama take a drive up into the interior of Glacier National Park in Montana on the "Going to the Sun" highway. My first trip there was at about age 4 or 5 -- the family had gone in the old Vauxhall (black with orange signal indicators that flipped up from beside the front doors). We had stopped at a level area next to a large bank of snow not yet melted by the summer sun. My father used the snow to put in the radiator as it had boiled over. When the car cooled off sufficiently we went on our way.

Several years later we returned in a '51 Chev, stopping at the same location to ease the vehicle's radiator. Yes, the large bank of snow and ice was still there. Another visitor to the park commented it was the tail end of a retreating snow pack as the snowfall in some winters was heavier than others.

Wikipedi states:

"The road is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring. Up to 80 feet (25 m) of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet (150 m) of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed. The road is generally open from early June to mid October."

This serpentine highway was named after nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which in turn was named after the journey of a Blackfoot Indian god who, according to legend, came to earth to help his people and returned home by climbing up the mountain and disappearing into the sun.


In 2007, it was the first year of a $170-million, 10-year reconstruction of the highway, the most thorough rebuilding since it was officially opened in 1933. Visitors will still be allowed to bike or drive their own vehicles on the mountain road, but should expect construction delays.

The 2007 opening was postponed in mid-June due to a torrential rainstorm that washed away a huge section of the highway. The road opened July 1st, the latest opening since 1943. In some years, snowstorms can slow travel and even close the road in July and August.

Glacier National Park was designated in 1910, and by the 1920s, as auto travel evolved, people were clamoring for motorized access. Construction on the road began in 1925, and it was a daunting task for the equipment of the time. Using horses, steam-powered shovels and tons of dynamite and black powder, workers began carving away the steep mountainsides to create a narrow dirt road. The road was opened in October 1932, with an opening ceremony on July 11, 1933.

Rebuilding the 18-to-22-foot-wide roadway is especially painstaking because the job is not just putting down a new road but rebuilding the old one, which is a National Historic Landmark, to exacting historic standards. There are huge stonework arches and stone guard railings, for example, built by Russian stonemasons, that have to be replicated. Two new quarries had to be opened to provide matching rock.

Currently, the road is battered and patched; however, when finished it will provide access to deep wilderness in Montana's interior.

To see the 2008 snow plowing conditions of Glacier Park go here where there is a slide show revealing how deep the snow is. For the faint of heart who are bothered by heights, DO NOT look at the photos.

Photo credits: [1] SheltieBoy CC=nc-flickr, [2] Bill Strong CC=nc-nd-flickr.

Sources: New York Times, Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Changes of Time

When I last searched for photos to place with my future posts, I came across this one of Highway 93 going through Sinclair Canyon near Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia.

There appears to be nothing wrong with this photo; unless you remember seeing it in the mid-1950s. The gap between the red rock walls was not visible until you were much closer. On the western side of the canyon, the space for the road was wider.

Every summer, until I was in my mid-teens, my family took trips to the Rockies, and that included a visit to Radium Hot Springs. The highway I recall was narrow; to say there was one and a half lanes would be generous. There appeared to be no definite space between the two rock walls except for the road inside and the sound of rushing water below. Vehicles would pass each other slowly. Any one of my brothers liked to lean out the back window to touch the rock as we went past; often knuckles were skinned accompanied with yelps and followed by admonishment by our mother.

Some summers my father had to navigate construction crews at Sinclair Canyon. There were flagmen with walkie-talkies who would indicate whether the vehicles stopped or were allowed to move one direction, then in the other direction when the road had been cleared of rocks from blasting. The federal government had decided to widen the highway within the canyon after learning of reports that cars had gone off the road there.

This wasn't surprising, considering the first guard rails were post beams with planks of wood nailed on; followed by beams with large cable wire attached. A few places had low stone and cement walls at the edge of the highway where, if you were sitting in the passenger side closest to the edge you could look way, way down. For anyone with a fear of heights, didn't look.

Initially, a drive through Sinclair Canyon was going into a narrow, darkened space like a tunnel that curled around the natural formation of the rock where the Radium Creek had worn away the stone. Driving was slow due to the twists and turns, and once out on the other side there was the Radium Hot Springs pool and the town beyond.

For history buffs, Sinclair Canyon is named after James Sinclair who came over Whiteman Pass leading a cavalcade of Red River settlers en route to Walla Walla, Washington in the mid-1840s.

By the early 1900s, local businessmen were lobbying for a road linking Windermere to Banff. Eventually the road was completed by the federal government in exchange for title to a strip of land on either side of the route. In 1920, this land was set aside as Kootenay National Park.

Kootenay is the only national park that represents the Rocky Mountain Trench in the Western Ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The trench, visible from space as a long linear valley stretching from the U.S. border to the B.C./Yukon border, is a major break in the earth's crust.

The elevation ranges from 900m to 3,400m, each range characterized by flora and fauna typical of the western Rocky Mountains. The south-western corner of the park contains the only example of dry Douglas fir/ponderosa pine/wheatgrass vegetation in Canada's national parks. This semi-arid area, where prickly pear cactus also grows, provides important winter range for wildlife, especially Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Other species include: grizzly and black bear, wolf, coyote, cougar, lynx, wolverine, marten, marmot, white-tailed and mule
deer, elk [photo], moose, mountain goat and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The mountain goat is the park's wildlife symbol.

Photo credit for Sinclair Canyon: Nancy Meier
Photo credit for elk: chris & lara pawluk CC=nc-flickr.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Tuesdays for Travis - Lake of the Woods

Lake of the woods is comprised of 11,800 hectares, and is situated near the borders of Ontario, Manitoba, and Minnesota. The park lies within a transition zone where three distinct natural environments meet -- northern, southern and prairie. The forest is a jumble of species, with southern hardwoods such as elm, ash and basswood growing next to Manitoba maples, and northern spruce and jackpine.

The mix of species also shows up in the park's birdlife. The most far from home are pelicans, who have colonized several remote islands and waterways in the park as permanent nesting grounds. Other winged strays include the yellow-headed blackbird and the western meadowlark, both Prairie birds. You'll also spot the scarlet tanager, redheaded woodpecker and Baltimore oriole, all usually found further south.

Another type of waterfowl is the Common Merganser, male and female pictured here.

The Common Merganser is often nicknamed Sawbill as it has a long, narrow bill with serrated edges and a hooked upper mandible which helps the duck catch and hold onto fish. It dives underwater to catch its prey, chasing small fish and frogs, newts, and aquatic invertebrates. It is usually seen in large flocks and is generally found on fresh water. Its nest is built in a tree cavity or among the rocks and lined with down where 6-12 pale buff eggs are laid and incubated by the female. These hatch after a 28-32 day incubation with the chicks leaving th enest soon after but not flying until 9-10 weeks old. This species is common throughout most of North America at different times of the year.

Wild rice bays are excellent feeding ground for migrating waterfowl. Duck hunting on Lake of the Woods is among the finest in the world. Grouse, sought for their delicate flavor, are plentiful as well.

Aggressive Northern Pike can be found year-round lurking in weed beds and shoreline structures with reports of sizes in the range of 5 to 30 pounds. The best time for Muskie fishing is July, August and October, Top Dancing Smallmouth Bass, Schooling Crappie and Delicious Walleye are reason enough to make Lake of the Woods, Canada your next fishing destination. There are several outfitters who can accompany you to safe fishing locations.

The clear deep water of Whitefish Bay is one of the few habitats for Lake Trout on Lake of the Woods. This superb fishing area is a relatively short boat trip from many of the Island resorts in that area.

Research: Ontario Parks
Photo Credits: Lake of the woods by theXenon CC=nc-sa-flickr; water fowl - common mergansers by jackanapes CC=nc-nd-flickr.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Porcupine Hills

The Porcupine Hills near Fort McLeod, Alberta is an important habitat for elk, moose, mule and white-tailed deer, and at one time, herds of bison. This, in turn, provides a favourable location for terrain and prey species: mountain lions.

In and around the Porcupine Hills there are several pre-historic jumps where bison and elk bones have been uncovered. The largest of these is “Head-Smashed-In”, a World Heritage Site, located near the southern end of the Hills.

Side view of "Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, looking north. Photo credit: cpj79, CC=nc-nd flickr.

Wikipedia states: "The buffalo jump was used for 5,500 years by aboriginal peoples of the plains to kill buffalo, by driving them off the 10 metre high cliff. The Blackfoot drove the buffalo from a grazing area in the Porcupine Hills about 3 kilometres west of the site to the "drive lanes," lined by hundreds of cairns, then at full gallop over a cliff, breaking their legs, rendering them immobile. The cliff itself is about 300 metres long, and at its highest point drops 10 metres into the valley below. The site was in use at least 6,000 years ago, and the bone deposits are 10 metres deep. After falling off the cliff, the buffalo carcasses were processed at a nearby camp."

Front view. Photo credit: ecstaticist, CC=nc-sa flickr.

According to legend, the place is named for a curious Peigan youth pinned to the cliff wall by the tumbling bison. He was later discovered with his skull crushed. In Blackfoot, the jump is called, Estipah-sikikini-kots “where he got his head smashed in.”

[Spruce Grouse in summer feathers, Chris.diewald CC=nc-nd flickr]

There are a variety of birds that breed in this location: blue grouse (sub-alpine forests), roughed grouse (Parkland aspen groves), including spruce grouse of the Sub-alpine spruce and lodgepole pine forests and sharp-tailed grouse of the grasslands.

Photo Credit: jpraadt CC=nc-flickr. Richard's Ground Squirrel, also known as the gopher, are considered a pest on the prairies.

On the eastern side of the Hills are abundant ground squirrel populations and steep sided coulees with high density of nesting birds of prey: hawks, golden eagles, prairie falcons and Merlins. Golden eagles and prairie falcons are listed as Sensitive in Alberta.

Golden Eagle.
Photo credit: jack_spellingbacon, CC=flickr

The Golden Eagle, a very large bird of prey with a wingspan of 80 inches, travels fast enough to take ptarmigans and grouse in the air and preys on rabbits, prairie dogs (gophers), and squirrels on the ground. It is able to attack mammals up to the size of a deer. The eyrie is made of masses of sticks and built in a tall tree or on a cliff and the male will often defend breeding territories of up to 75 square miles. It is a very solitary bird that is occasionally seen in pairs but rarely in groups, preferring isolated areas away from humans.

Prairie Falcon with kill Photo credit: gmnonic, CC=flickr.

The Prairie Falcon, with a wingspan of 40 inches, hunts for squirrels, birds, and rodents. It spends time searching for prey from perches high above the ground then with rapid wingbeats interspersed with short glides it swoops down on its prey from behind. The victim is caught in the falcon's talons as it swoops to the ground. It resembles the Peregrine Falcon but lacks the black crown.

In 1868 reports of gold in the Porcupine Hills brought in an expedition from the Montana Territory, outfitted by traders in Fort Benton. A year later the Saskatchewan Mining Prospecting and Trading Outfit moved into the area for the expressed purpose of moving the whisky trade into Canada, dominating it for the next five years.

By 1870, this illicit trade was in full swing in Whoop-Up Country, as it was known by the traders and dominated by those working out of Fort Benton. In 1872, the government in Ottawa sent Colonel Robertson-Ross, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Militia, to investigate the lawlessness. He traveled the trail between the Porcupine Hills and the Whaleback en route to the North Kootenay Pass in the Castle Wilderness.
His visit and reports on the numerous American forts on Canadian soil engaged in their trade prompted the formation of the North West Mounted Police in 1874. (A future post will cover their hardships from Fort Garry, Manitoba to the Canadian west.)

Today, the bison herds, most of the big game at that time, grizzly bear, elk, and the way of life of the Blackfoot Confederacy Nations were decimated by the whisky trade within four short years of the Colonel’s visit; a total span of six years for the whisky trade, which included trading posts and hide-outs in the Porcupine Hills. The wild terrain and vegetation remain, and some of the big game species recovered.

A Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Michael Vanner

Monday, 16 June 2008

Tuesdays for Travis - Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Woodland Caribou Park is 450,000 hectares of Ontario northern wilderness "where nature still rules" and is so remote that canoe trippers and sport fishing enthusiasts can penetrate its interior and reach its backcountry campsites and outpost lodges only by water or by air. This weathered Arctic watershed has one of the largest herds of woodland caribou south of Hudson Bay. This area once travelled by fur traders, has ancient pictographs, howling wolves under starry skies, soaring eagles, solitude and adventure.

[1-Douglas Lake from dock - click to enlarge]

The Park offers 1,000 backcountry campsites which belong to a policy of pack-in/pack-out. The visitor is not to leave a trace of their passage. Every bit of debris, every scar is an affront to the natural landscape. Campers are to use known campsites, existing fire rings, or better yet, gas stoves. Structures such as lean-tos, tables, and benches are not allowed to be constructed at campsites or any where else in the park interior.

[2-Trillium - Ontario's provincial flower]

[3 - Moose at Douglas Lake]

Anglers travel to this wilderness park for sport fish such as walleye, northern pike and lake trout. The fish quality is excellent, as is the fishing action. Live bait can be used but is not necessary.

Animals in this park are typical of the boreal forest and more western habitats. They include woodland caribou (pictured left), moose, black bear, beaver, otter, muskrat, mink, martin, fisher, wolverine, weasel, lynx, fox and timber wolf. Other inhabitants include green frogs, snapping and painted turtles and 100 species of birds, including bald eagles (photo below), ospreys, terns, pelicans and great blue herons. The park's elusive woodland caribou herd and a colony of prairie Franklin's ground squirrels are found only in this region of Ontario.

The bald eagle is a very skilled hunter and feeds predominately on fish. It is renowed for stealing fish from Ospreys and will congregate near spawning runs which are easy targets. This eagle was endangered in the 1970s but the banning of pesticides and introduction of conservation programs have increased its population. It builds its eyrie from sticks in a tree up to 150 feet from the ground and near water. It returns to the same one each year, adding to the structure and weight: some nests have been known to weigh up to 1000 lb.

This area represents a vast unspoiled wilderness, yet it is within easy access of northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and the US Midwest.

Research: for directions.
A Field Guide to the Birds in North America by Michael Vanner
Photo Credits: [1][2][3] by greenbroke CC=flickr.
Woodland Caribou by Wikipedia
Bald Ealge from Wikipedia

Sunday, 15 June 2008

My Town Monday - Toronto Islands Park

Originally, the Toronto Islands were a series of continuously moving sand bars, originating from the Scarborough Bluffs and carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. By the early 1800s, the longest of these bars extended from Woodbine Avenue, past the marshes of the lower Don River, forming a natural harbour between the lake and the mainland.

[Toronto Islands by MusMa CC=nc-sa-flickr]

The peninsula and surrounding sand-bars were first surveyed in 1792 by Lieutenant Bouchette of the British Navy. D.W. Smith’s Gazetter recorded in 1813 that “the long beach or peninsula, which affords a most delightful ride, is considered so healthy by the Indians that they resort to it whenever indisposed”. Many Indian encampments were located between the peninsula’s base and the Don River. During migration periods vast numbers of birds frequented the sand-bars and marshlands of the Don River and Ashbridge’s Bay.

[Eastern Gap Island Side by RC Fotos CC=flickr]

In the 1850s, a number of severe storms and strong wave action eroded the peninsula, which required frequent repair to small gaps until, in 1858, an island was created when a spring storm completely separated the peninsula from the mainland and the gap was not repaired. The Eastern Gap has since become an important shipping route in the Toronto Harbour. Another storm, a hundred years later known as Hurricane Hazel, blew through Toronto and split what had been one large island into eight smaller ones that exist today.

[Toronto from Centre Island by sillgwailo CC=flickr]

The shorelines were stabilized by dredging projects to reduce sand-bar movement, to create deeper boating channels, or raise the land levels in general. On January 1, 1956, the Toronto Islands were developed as a regional park which included: fully accessible washrooms, a public marina, an amusement area and petting zoo, and the establishment of naturalized areas and wildlife reserves.

[Toronto Skyline from Hanlan's Point by wonkanerd CC=sa-flickr]

The Hanlan family was among the first year-round inhabitants on Toronto Island, settling at Gibraltar Point in 1862. The west side of the island, commonly known as West Point, became a summer cottage community for the citizens of Toronto. In 1878, a hotel was built by John Hanlan at the north-west tip of the island and soon the area became known as Hanlan’s Point. One of John’s sons, Edward “Ned” Hanlan, had international recognition as a rower and held numerous world records. Babe Ruth, a baseball legend, hit his first professional home run at the baseball stadium built on Toronto Island in 1914.

[Centre Island Bridge - six steps CC=nc-nd-flickr]

Centre Island is between Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island. A carriage route along the peninsula connected the mainland to Gibraltar Point Lighthouse later evolved into Lake Shore Avenue. Two distinctive bridges, still in use today, were built to accommodate the extra traffic from visitors and residents who used the Centre Island Ferry.

[Antique Carousel at Centreville Amusement Park, Centre Island by Old Shoe Woman CC=nc-sa-flickr]

[Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - helenmoverland CC=nd-flickr]

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the oldest landmark in Toronto. Its light beam has guided ships and boats into the harbour for over 150 years. In 1808 the Upper Canada Gazette printed the following: "It is a pleasure to inform the public that the dangers to vessels navigating Lake Ontario will in a great measure be avoided by the erection of a lighthouse on Gibraltar Point which is to be completed in compliance with an address in the House of Assembly to the Lieutenant Governor." This address was dated March 9, 1808, and on April 6th the Lieutenant Governor visited the peninsula and chose a site for the lighthouse.

[Peeking Out From Ward's Island by thebigdurian CC=nc-sa-flickr]

Ward’s Island, the east section of the old peninsula, was named after David Ward, a local fisherman, who settled there about 1830 and raised seven children. His son, William, built the Ward’s Hotel in 1882, was renovated in 1922 and the remaining building operated as a grocery supply and ice-cream parlour until its demolition in 1966.

Anyone who wants to see the Toronto skyline from across Lake Ontario can travel by ferry over to Toronto Island, a paradise of over 600 acres of parkland waiting to be discovered. Walking trails, picnic areas, supervised swimming beaches, bicycle and boat rentals, tennis, volleyball, Centreville amusement rides, a petting zoo, public marina, lighthouse, and much more await the visitor. For those who do not bring a picnic lunch, there are several snack shops and licensed restaurants on Centre Island. The islands are popular for locals and visitors alike; over 1 million people visit the islands each year.

National Post, December 28, 2007.
This post was the brain-child of Travis Erwin. Check out his blogsite to see other My Town Monday stories around the globe.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Writing Schedule and Prompts

During the week I try to keep to a schedule as it is necessary to get any drafting or rewriting done. I set aside a minimum of 30 minutes per day, which often expands if the thoughts surface more rapidly than I had anticipated. It is easier to coax the half hour of writing than to think 'what if nothing comes tonight' and I end up sitting at the desk for most of the evening.

This rarely happens to me as I have my diversions: blog buddies, a stack of books beside my desk to thumb open: either to read a partial chapter or skim in research for another blog article on My Town Monday; sometimes looking at a photograph will jump start my muse and away I go, computer keys clicking or just handwriting.

The majority of my drafting of plots or storyline is done longhand in a scribbler with dates attached for entry notation. Some of it is in pencil as this allows easier rewriting, especially if only a couple of words are needed. And I sit in my comfy recliner to pen these thoughts.

As an aspiring writer, I find that reading other writers in the same or similar genres to be of benefit. It is important to read the first book they published, first as entertainment, secondly, to dissect its components to see how the story was arranged to excite the reader enough to continue.

Another important criteria, is to read comments by writers who have been in the business a goodly portion of their lives. Such as Piers Anthony who has published 137 books and counting.

Today I read the June newsletter of Piers Anthony, which visitors can find on the upper right sidebar. He had written about authors or agents submitting work to publishers and not getting published due to the fact there were only so many slots for work to go to. Once that quota was filled there was no place for the remaining unpublished manuscripts.

Also, I found some of his other comments on a variety of topics refreshing reading and hilarious in places. Some readers may not see the humour, but this may be an age factor related to the concept.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Wet Monkey Theory

I received the following from my friend who works in the insurance industry. They get the most interesting emails, and I am going to share this one. Author unknown.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while another monkey makes the attempt with same result, all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. the newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that is the way it has always been done around here.

Does this sound familiar?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Tuesdays For Travis

Travis Erwin likes to fish, and has made mention on another blog that he would like to know how the fishing is in other areas. As a response to that remark, on Tuesdays from now on I will be posting something that relates to this topic within Canada.

Manitoulin Island is located at the northern edge of Lake Huron in Northern Ontario. Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world at 180 kms long (112 miles) and 50 kms wide (31 miles) an area of 1,068 square miles (2,766 square km). The name Manitoulin is derived from an Algonquin Indian word for “island of the spirits.”

Anglers can test their skills fishing Lake Kawagong for smallmouth bass, northern pike, jumbo perch and walleye (pickerel). The open waters of Lake Huron and the North Channel provide outstanding fishing areas for king salmon, lake trout, brown trout and steelhead. There are many local charter boat services to provide the fishing enthusiast with a fully equipped day of big water fishing.

The following information is from the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources website:

“Ontario is home to 2,000 lakes that contain lake trout, more than 3,500 lakes with walleye and 400 lakes and rivers that are home to muskellunge. Despite the abundance of Ontario's fisheries resources, they are in high demand.

Fish are an important part of the province's economy. Ontario's fisheries sustain the sport fishing and tourist industries, as well as the commercial fishery. About 1.4 million anglers fish in Ontario each year. These anglers spend more than $2.3 billon dollars annually on fisheries-related expenditures.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, as the manager of Ontario's fisheries, works to maintain healthy fish communities so present and future generations will enjoy high quality fishing and viewing opportunities. One of the ways we can ensure healthy fish communities is to manage our fisheries on a broad, landscape level.

Ontario has thousands of remote lakes where wilderness fishing opportunities abound. Tourist operators can fly you into a solitary retreat where your cabin will be the only one on the lake. Or, you can canoe into the interior of Ontario's magnificent wilderness. As an added attraction, you will have a chance to see Ontario's incredible wildlife in truly natural settings.

If you're looking for that absolutely unforgettable fishing experience there's plenty of trophy material in Ontario waters. Record fish are a real possibility here: muskellunge in Northwestern Ontario, brook trout in the James Bay Frontier or walleye in the Great Lakes. Fish in Ontario and you could be telling the tale about the one that didn't get away.

Some of Ontario's larger lakes and lake districts have become recognized as premier tournament waters, with anglers from across North America competing for recognition and some impressive prizes. These tournaments emphasize 'catch and release'.”

[Rice Lake, Ontario fisherman with muskie - click to enlarge - Derek Purdy CC=nd-flickr]

Ontario has Fly-In lakes that are truly the land of giants. A fishing enthusiast can test their skills and strength with huge Northern Pike and Muskie. Anglers in these remote locations boast catches of 50-60 pound Muskellunge and 30-40 pound Northerns. These catches are not anomalies but occur on a regular every day basis. Looking for deep water trophy fish action? Northern Ontario continues to produce one of the largest Walleye populations on the planet.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

My Town Monday - Mimico (Toronto)

Today I’m going to introduce you to a neighbourhood within Toronto: Mimico. This is where I live, a community adjacent to Lake Ontario; yet far enough away from the downtown core. When looking out from one of the many shoreline parks, you can see just how far you are from downtown and what a relief that is.

Some days, early in the morning, I go for a walk to a small parkette at the end of Miles Road just off Lake Shore Boulevard West to watch the sun rise or listen to the waves break against the retaining wall of rocks. On particularly windy days or when a storm system is moving in from New York State across the water, the white caps and waves are higher, breaking in a similar pattern to what one finds on a beach at the ocean. They crash against the rocks, the spray reaching up over the top (6 to 8 feet) and it sounds just as if you were hundreds of miles away at the ocean.

The large waterbirds in the photo are Trumpeter Swans, and they usually have cygnets to show off near the end of June. The young birds are able to leave the nest soon after hatching but stay with the parents until the following spring. The youngsters have dull gray-brown plumage and a pinkish bill. The Swans are prevalent here in the east after being introduced when their numbers dwindled almost to extinction. Their normal range of habitat is along the west coast of British Columbia to Alaska, as well as some parts of North Dakota in the United States. The Trumpeter Swan feeds on insects and aquatic plants using its long neck to reach them. They have a long, straight neck, white plumage, and a black, straight bill, as well as black facial skin that forms a "V" on the forehead. They have a wingspan of 96 inches.

Further east down the shoreline from where I live, Colonel Samuel Smith Park is the City of Toronto’s restoration project of renovating the former Lake Shore Mimico Lunactic Asylum.

You read correctly. There are creepy associations to those words, and certainly there are horrific scenarios which may have been documented. But they will be not be stated here, at this time. My post is mostly about parks.

The Etobicoke and New Toronto Historical Societies described the area as: “The waterfront lake filled area is naturalized with grasses, shrubs and small trees. The shoreline is a combination of rocky headlands, cobble beaches and protected wetland which blends further north into mature trees and landscaped lawns of the former hospital grounds.”

The Etobicoke Historical Society wrote a nice, long winded article about the namesake of the park, Colonel Samuel Smith, which I am about to summarize for my readers.

Colonel Samuel Smith was born at Hempstead, Long Island, on December 27, 1756. His grandfather had emigrated from the north of England in about 1740 and purchased a considerable sized estate. Sam’s father obtained a commission into the Queen’s Rangers for him. (Having money did wonders back then for careers. If a commission had to be paid for a job then Sam had some qualities lacking.) (My comments are those in parenthesis).

In the American Revolution Sam was wounded at Brandywine and promoted to captain before he turned twenty. After the war he retired at half pay to New Brunswick, going to England and then toured Europe.

After returning to England he joined Simcoe's new Queen's Rangers as a captain. This new corps of infantry came to Upper Canada to assist in the erection of public buildings, the construction of bridges, the formation of roads of communication and in any other civil or military duties which His Majesty's service required. The original thought was they would devote 2 days a week on public works, 2 days on military exercises and 2 days for their private advantage.

In 1795 Abraham Iredell surveyed the "military lands" in Etobicoke between Royal York Road and Kipling Avenue from Bloor Street to the Lake. Sergeant Patrick Mealey was the first person to receive a patent for land in Etobicoke, on March 18, 1797. The Rangers were disbanded in 1802.

Simcoe placed these "military lands" in Etobicoke to protect his new town of Toronto, which he called York, from a possible attack by Yankees or Indians.

What was to be known as the Colonel Smith Tract stretched from Kipling west to Etobicoke Creek from Bloor south to the Lake. Samuel Smith had a town residence on Richmond Street and also a Park Lot which extended from Queen to Bloor in what is now mid town Toronto. His Etobicoke home was just south of Lake Shore Boulevard and east of Etobicoke Creek. In 1804 when Etobicoke's population was 40 it included for Samuel Smith 2 males over 16 years, 2 females, 2 male children and 3 female children for a total of 9. In May of that year Lord Selkirk, of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Red River Settlement, wrote that he rode to Etobicoke to breakfast with Colonel Smith. Robert Gourlay wrote in 1818 that he visited Colonel Smith in his home, and found him lonely and desolate on the lakeshore. On 2 occasions Colonel Smith when our Lieutenant governor was out of the province acted as president of the council, in effect, chief administrator of Upper Canada.

In 1952 Colonel Smith's home in Etobicoke was demolished to make way for a development. The Etobicoke Historical Society placed a historical plaque in the nearby Dominion Store to remind Canadians of the landmark. Now, even the Dominion Store has disappeared.

In 1868 the Ontario Provincial Government decided the model farm west of Queen's Park had to go. Tenders were called for a new site within 10 miles of Toronto near a railway. Nearly 600 acres were purchased between Royal York Road and Kipling north of the railway to Evans Avenue. On November 28, 1871 contractors HJ and RT Sutton staked out the locations for buildings. Then there was a change in the Government and what was to become the Ontario Agricultural College was established in Guelph.

In 1887 the Government finally approved the Toronto Asylum on Queen Street using part of the "model farm" property at Mimico.

The following year 10 patients were sent to live there and practice agriculture. In 1889 they moved into the first "cottage" in what for years has been the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.

Also in 1887 the Government allowed the Victoria Industrial School for bad boys to be located on the "model farm" property to the west of Royal York Road. It had a number of buildings but closed in 1934. In 1918 a branch of the Guelph Reformatory was established on the "model farm". Its facility included a brick and tile factory using shale dug up in an adjacent field.

Etobicoke had some gambling dens in the 1930s and 1940s and the proprietors when caught were "sent to the brick yards of Mimico".

The Lakeshore Psych began with 55 acres on the east side of Kipling Avenue. The 2-storey brick "cottages" were to accommodate groups of patients with specific illnesses. In 1903 an additional 73 acres were purchased on the west side of Kipling for agriculture use by the patients. In 1958 the Lakeshore Teachers College was built on the north west corner of the property. Four years later the RL Clark water filtration plant was established at the south west corner of the property.

Humber College moved into the Teachers College building in 1972 and at the end of the decade, the Provincial Government closed the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.

The site now includes the Colonel Samuel Smith Park as part of Crombie's Waterfront Trail. The Conservation Authority has added 21.5 hectares of landfill and created 3.6 hectares of wetland area, a popular spot for birders and boaters. The Colonel Sam Smith Park was officially opened in September 1996.”


This photo is of one of the former cottages, now known as the Police Academy.

[2-Great Egret]

These new wetlands along the shores of Lake Ontario where many birds, including the Great Egret, pictured here, will be able to re-establish their numbers. These long legged birds walk through water, taking measured, careful steps, while stalking fish, frogs, and water snakes. Great Egrets nest in colonies, generally built in trees but will use marsh reeds and sticks. Their wingspan is large at 51 inches, and they prefer a habitat of lakes, marshes and wetlands. Their black legs distinguish them from other white herons which are smaller.


Another common water bird is the Mallard which nests near water, shallow ponds and marshes. The mallard pictured here is a male. Females are a mottled brown with an orange bill with black markings. Mallards feed on aquatic plants, insects and small fish. They are found in the wild and in city parks where water is present.


This is a coffee boutique at 2413 Lake Shore Boulevard West in the west end of Toronto in what used to be the Village of Mimico. Birds & Beans sell organic coffee in their store and on-line.


Their motto is "We want to take your coffee experience into a whole new realm. We are in passionate pursuit of the best cup of coffee in the city, the country and even the world. We love coffee and we love to share our experience."

As far as I am concerned, the coffee they sell is premium grade, no more expensive than coffee from Second Cup, Timothy's or Starbucks. When I run out of ground coffee I make it part of my shopping trip for the day, stopping to have a cup of the day's choice and one of the pastries or muffins baked on the premises.

Every Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. they have Jazz playing on the second floor which makes a nice diversion after a busy week. If you go, just say I sent you.

For further information on this company you can visit:

This post comes to you via Travis Erwin's brain child: My Town Monday. Check out his site to see other far off places.

Water bird information obtained from: A Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Michael Vanner.

Photo Credits for [1]-Wikipedia, [2] Gavatron CC=nc-sa-flickr, [3]-One Enchanted Garden CC=nc-nd-flickr.
Photo Credit for Birds & Beans store: - used with permission.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Where My Soul Really Soars

After joining Travis Erwin's My Town Monday, my soul really soars to the wide open spaces out west, where my roots lie. I've been feeling it's time to return, but I will content myself with photos like these for the time being.

My mother would tell me stories about the times when she was younger: of seeing herds of cattle arrive from the south, as far away as Texas, to graze on the open prairies of central and southern Alberta; of how the trail hands were upset that the grazing land they had been using for many years had become settled and fenced; and of the fine horses that came with the herds. One type she took an interest in: a stocky white horse with Peacock and White Cloud breeding and Arabian blood to make it hardy.

Photo Credit: Second photo by space_ritual CC=nd flickr commons.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

This post is for Travis Erwin who is suffering from the heat in Amarillo, Texas. Perhaps by looking at the photos he will chill a little.

A friend in the insurance business sent these photos to me along with the accompanying note, which I did find to be stranger than fiction. They were taken at Churchill, Manitoba.

“The photographs are Norbert Rosing’s striking images of a wild polar bear playing with sled dogs in the wilds of Canada’s Hudson Bay. The photographer was certain that he was going to see the end of his huskies when the polar bear materialized “out of the blue”, as it were. The polar bear returned every night that week to play with the dogs….”

Have you seen anything that would seem to be stranger than fiction?

Monday, 2 June 2008

Toronto, Ontario - My Town Monday

I first learned about My Town Monday on Travis Erwin's blog and have been invited to join in.

Being a person who enjoys nature and wide open spaces, I like going to High Park where if you stand in certain places it seems as if you have entered another existence. There are no telephone poles, telephone or electrical wires, houses or rooftops to be seen. High Park is situated in the west end of Toronto on approximately 400 acres of wilderness and groomed landscape within an urban area. There are woods, meadows with linking trails, ponds and a teahouse.

At this time of year you are in a lush green area where birds twitter and soar, squirrels and chipmunks scamper, swans, ducks, geese and storks congregate in the various ponds in the park. There are probably other animals, like possums and racoons which frequent my neightbourhood area to the west of this park.

According to the park information site at there are “oak savannahs in the park which are the remnants of the sand prairie system that once covered much of the Ontario landscape”.

John Howard, an early architect and philanthropist of Toronto, founded High Park. (A future post will be written about him).

Within High Park there is a zoo, first built in 1890, when deer were kept. Now there are a variety of domestic and exotic species: bison, llamas, peacocks, deer, highland cattle and sheep. The animals kept at High Park have large paddocks to roam in and they appear content to be there. It is one of the features that draws children to the park, and its enjoyable to seeing their faces light up when they see the animals as they approach.

Photo Credit: wikipedia.