Thursday, June 30, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #21: An Epic Water Battle

Yesterday was the last day of school for both of my kids. As I was leaving to pick up my daughter my neighbor mentioned the great Balsam water battle, which I'd never heard of before. She told me it was a big water battle that happens every year on Balsam Ave. on the last day of school. People who live on the street put out buckets and hoses and the kids show up from all over the neighborhood to celebrate the last day of school.

When I picked my daughter up she said all her friends were talking about some water battle they were going to and I told her I heard about it too. We had to check it out. She got on her bathing suit and we waited for her brother to come home to see he wanted to go too. He did, and he dug our giant water gun out of storage and we started walking two streets over, along with several other towel-draped,  plastic-gun-toting familes. It was epic.

There were at least 200 kids there, along with parents trying to stay dry on the sidelines.

Several houses had food out for the kids - Popsicles, hot dogs, watermelon, etc. It was great to see such generosity and even better to see the kids so happy an excited.

At one point, a mob of kids marched down the street chanting, "BALMY! BALMY! BALMY! BALMY!" (Balmy Beach is the name of the junior public (elementary) school in our neighborhood.)

When we got home my kids were talking about how neither of them knew who Bobby was, or why everyone was cheering for him, but it was fun.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #20: Taste of Toronto

We're trying to experience as much of the city as we can before we leave. You could live here a lifetime and never see it all.

On Sunday we drove to Fort York...

Wikipedia tells me: "Fort York is a historic site of military fortifications and related buildings on the west side of downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The fort was built by the British Army and Canadian militia troops in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to defend the settlement and the new capital of the Upper Canada region from the threat of a military attack, principally from the newly independent United States." (... those pesky American rebels.)

They often have events on the lawn and this weekend was the Taste of Toronto.

Their website describes it as a showcase of the true flavours (with a U) of the local Toronto food scene, where people can enjoy signature dishes from the city’s finest restaurants, learn tricks of the trade from world-class chefs, and sample gourmet food and drinks, all in one place.

And that's exactly what we did.

30 Things I Love About Canada #19: Luminato Festival

Saturday evening we attended the Luminato Festival inside the old Hearn Generating Station, home of the giant smokestack that stands in the background of so many of our beach pics.

Their website says: "Luminato is one of the preeminent arts festivals in North America, having commissioned close to 100 new works of art, with more than 3,000 performances featuring 11,000 artists from over 40 countries."

Inside, it looks like this:

The art installations were trippy.

On the second floor were plastered these iconic works of art photoshopped with the Hearn in as a backdrop. I had also seen some of these plastered on buildings around the city.

It was a multi-media sensory overload of WEIRD.

We were simultaneously enlightened and confused.

It was the kind of experience that makes you look at  the world a little differently when you leave.

I could say the same thing about our year in Toronto.

Friday, June 24, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #18: National Aboriginal Day

Canada is not without its own dark past. This is a land of immigrants too, after all, which means certain cultures moved in and displaced the people who were already here. Recently, Canada hast been trying to make up for past injustices.

For one, no one calls these people Indians anymore. The U.S. has also ditched this misleading description in favor of the term Native Americans which is still not the best term since these people were living on the land long before Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci sailed around the southern part of the continent. Why does he get to be part of their identity? The term Aboriginal makes more sense, as it means "having existed in a region from the beginning." In Canada, they are also sometimes referred to as Indigenous people and are made up of 3 groups: the First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis peoples.

Agreeing on proper terminology is the first step. Acknowledging past injustices and addressing present-day ramifications is the next step, and Canada seems to be doing this. In 1996, the Canadian government established June 21 as National Aboriginal Day, an annual holiday marked by festivals, cultural events, and awareness campaigns. The U.S. has no such holiday (Thanksgiving doesn't count), although Seattle (yay!) did officially rename Columbus Day as Indigenous People's Day. 

On Monday, the news showed prime minister Justin Trudeau wearing his father's old buckskin coat (his dad was once the prime minister too) as he attended a sunrise smudging ceremony and paddled a canoe on the Ottawa river.

Photo by Chris Wattie via Toronto Star

He issued this statement: “Coast to coast to coast, their remarkable art and cultures, significant contributions and history, are essential to our sense of nationhood.” He pledged that the Canadian government would “better support the well-being of children and families, improve the quality of education for indigenous students, and ensure health services meet the needs of indigenous communities.”

In an effort to raise awareness, Historica Canada, an organization dedicated to enhancing awareness of Canadian history and citizenship, created this short and powerful Heritage Minute about the horrific treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools. (A friend of ours worked on the production of this film.) Warning: It will make you sad.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #17: They Really Love America

After the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, the church down the street from us posted this:

30 Things I Love About Canada #16: Canadians Love America

Canada loves America. They're a bit confused by our politics and gun violence and blatant racism, but for the most part they embrace American culture. They watch a lot of American-made television shows and movies, they have most of our fast food restaraunts (sorry about that), and they buy a lot of American-originated brands of clothing and other items (which let's face it, are mostly made in China). They have their own Canadian tv shows and restaurant chains and stores, but most Americans have no clue about them. 

For example, when we first moved here I thought Joe Fresh sold vegetables (they sell clothes like Old Navy). I thought Canadian Tire was a place to get your tires checked (it's like WalMart). Also, I was impressed that Canadian teenagers in Toronto really like the Philadelphia/Jimmy Fallon band the Roots (it's a clothing brand like American Eagle).

This past Sunday we attended Beaches Brews & BBQ Festival at Woodbine Park, a celebration of local breweries (NOT the Beer Store, which is gross). To our surprise though, their BBQ was all-American.

The event is put on by Northern Heat Rib Series featuring "the best BBQ teams in Canada" offering flavors from Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky, and New Mexico. I was kind of looking forward to tasting the BBQ flavors of Ontario and Alberta and Saskatchewan, etc. but it was fun to see America being celebrated.

I can't think of many instances in the states where we celebrate All-Canadian culture and cuisine.

(Apologies to my vegetarian friends who are totally grossed out now).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #15: Thousand Islands

This past Saturday was our 16th anniversary so my husband booked us a day cruise exploring the historic city of Kingston and Thousand Islands. Or, at least, he thought he did. The description was misleading and by the time we realized it, it was too late. That's how our family ended up on a busload of elderly Persians at 7 in the morning in Scarborough. We had a quick stop for breakfast at a roadside attraction/restaraunt known as The Big Apple in Cramahe, ON. 

And and rode around Kingston for a guided tour where we were sad to learn we couldn't get off the bus to explore, except for a washroom stop at City Hall where I took this pic:

Then we were driven to a random retirement village-looking motel/restaurant for an awful buffet lunch... I'm getting to the good part, I promise. This place had a bar at least, and my husband and I drank while the kids watched snakes and frogs on the riverbanks.

Finally, we went on a boat ride...

and saw what Thousand Islands are all about - lots of tiny islands, many which are occupied by just one house.

One of which has a castle.

Boldt Castle, built on a heart-shaped island by a Philadelphia hotelier for his wife who died before it was completed then left abandoned before it was bought by the guy who invented lifesavers. 

Now it's a hotel and tourist attraction but it's on the American side of the islands so we weren't allowed to visit it.

I asked the bartender if this area is where Thousand Island dressing comes from and she said yes and gave me a card with the recipe.

It was invented by the Boldt chef in Philadelphia to pay homage to his boss' favorite place. The chives, green pepper, and dill pickles bits are supposed to represent the many tiny islands and the orange pink hue is supposed to be reminiscent of the sunset. Who knew?

I had to come all the way to Canada and take a weird bus ride to go out on a boat to find that out.

30 Things I Love About Canada #14: Ketchup Chips

They have these in the states, but they're more of a novelty and rare find. In Canada they're a staple. You'll find several different brands of them in every grocery store and corner market and you'll never see them spelled "Catsup." My daughter loves them, but I've had to swear them off for the sake of my waist (see also delicious candy bars).

Another popular chip is called All Dressed.

I had to Google the ingredients because for the life of me I can't figure out the flavor. This funny review from a website called Serious Eats says that All Dressed chips are a flavor mixture of barbecue sauce, sour cream & onion, salt & vinegar, and ketchup.

 Suffice it to say, they're intense.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #13: Black Squirrels

We first noticed black squirrels when we went camping in British Columbia 3 years ago. There may be some in the U.S. but I've never lived in an area that had them before. The ones I'm used to are gray or reddish brown. Canada has those too, but the black ones outnumber them. At least they do in Toronto.

I remember the day our moving truck arrived a moving guy overheard us marvelling at a black squirrel on the porch and asked, "You've never seen a squirrel before?"  He was surprised when we told him that black ones were new to us.

Now? They're no big deal. There everywhere and we cross paths with them several times a day. I think I'm going to miss them when we move.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #12: No Mass Shootings

There is an underlying fear in America that at any moment you could get shot. We think about it when we sit down to watch a movie in a theater. We think about snipers when we walk across a parking lot. We think about random drive-by shooters when we're walking down the street. We think about it when we piss someone off in traffic. We think about it when we're in a church, or mosque, or synagogue. We think about it when we send our kids to school.

When I was a teacher I had it all planned out - how I would barricade the door, hide my students in the art supply closet, and how I would be a hero or die trying. I've wondered what picture of me the news would use in their memorial to the victims, what paragraph they would write to sum up my life, and how soon everyone would forget the event and move on to the next one.

Americans accept that gun massacres are inevitable. We train for them with lock-downs and active-shooter drills. Some people stock up on guns and ammo and arm themselves while they fantasize about being the the good guy with the gun. Studies have shown though that when there are more guns in society there are more accidents, suicides, and murders. Go figure. This is what guns are designed to do.

Walking around the Bestival music festival in Toronto on Sunday I felt free. It was a beautiful sunny day, everyone was dancing and smiling and enjoying the music together and I couldn't help but think of the people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando the night before. They too were dancing and smiling with their friends in a place where they felt welcome and accepted... until someone with an assault rifle decided to start shooting.

It could happen in Canada, but it doesn't, at least not often and not to the extent that it happens in the U.S. Why? Canadians have guns. The difference is that their government, in an effort to protect its citizens, has commonsense laws to regulate the availability and distribution of firearms.

... and that's where Americans who love guns start getting angry. Americans, I've found (at least the ultra-conservative ones) are much angrier in general than their conservative counterparts in Canada, especially when it comes to paying taxes, allowing government-sponsored health care, and accepting people of differing faiths and skin colors and sexual orientations. The mere mention of "government," "laws," and "regulate" starts to feel like an infringement on "freedom" to some, even if it results in saving the lives of thousands of others.

In order to purchase a firearm in Canada a citizen must take a gun safety class, pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Courses, apply for a license and pay a fee ($200 - $350), wait a few weeks to receive the license in the mail, and renew it every 5 years. Source:

These seem like simple safeguards, right? Other notable differences are that it's illegal to conceal carry in Canada and there is a lengthy list of specific handguns and high powered assault rifles that are are prohibited. Do these restrictions piss off some gun lovers? Yes. But they live with it and as a result, fewer people die.

Monday, June 13, 2016

30 Things I Love About Canada #11: Bestival

This Sunday my husband and I attended Bestival in the Beaches. I had heard the Cure was headlining and 1989 me really wanted to see Robert Smith perform live. We ditched the kids in the late afternoon and caught a bus to Woodbine Park.

Since it was Sunday, we decided to attend church.

Where we witnessed a wedding.

And got to participate in the reception.

That was fun. Next up, the Cure!

I want to say we rocked out but you don't really rock out to the Cure, you stand there and nod and sway and watch and feel all the feels. It was awesome.

Thank you Bestival!