Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Ottawa exhibition of note: Gustave Doré

Special artists attain enough fame to draw crowds on their reputation alone. You know, ones like Picasso, Rembrandt, da Vinci or Monet. Others are also important, but just don’t have the right name recognition.

"Paul Gustave Dore" by Felix Nadar 1855-1859. Pretty dashing, eh? Portrait (detail): Public domain

“Paul Gustave Dore” by Felix Nadar 1855-1859. Quite the dashing figure!

Take Gustave Doré. Sure, some readers know his art, others even know who created it. But he’s just not that famous. Which seems a pity as Doré is : “…without doubt one of the most prodigious artists of the 19th century” according to the Museé d’Orsay:

As an illustrator, Doré set himself the challenge of the greatest texts (the Bible, Dante, Rabelais, Perrault, Cervantes, Milton, Shakespeare, Hugo, Balzac, Poe), which turned him into a real purveyor of European culture. He thus occupies a special place in contemporary collective imagination, from van Gogh to Terry Gilliam, not to mention his undoubted influence on comic books…

Why am I bringing him up? Because the big summer event for the National Gallery of Canada (right here in Ottawa) is a major showing of work by Doré. A North American exclusive, I might add.

Unfortunately, according to media reports, attendance hasn’t been all that great so far. CBC quotes National gallery spokeswoman Josée-Britanie Mallet as saying this exhibition has drawn raves. But: ”Until they see the artwork, they don’t know who Gustave Doré is.”

How often is an artist from centuries past credited – as Doré is – with influencing films and comic books? But wait, there’s more. Doré was the opposite of a one trick pony, the man did it all: drawing, painting, watercolor, engravings and sculpture. And talk about prolific, where did he find the time to create so much? According to a mini-bio from WikiArt:

He produced over 100,000 sketches in his lifetime, and lived to be 50 years old, averaging 6 sketches per day for each day he lived. By the time he died he had also earned over $2 million, living a life of affluence. Even though he was an untrained, self-taught artist, who never used a live model, and who could not sketch from nature, his work is considered some of the most important in the entire engraving art world.

Again from the Musée d’Orsay, his talent encompassed completely different styles and genres:

Petit Chaperon Rouge/Little Red Riding-Hood "She was astonished to see how her grandmother looked"

Doré illustration for Petit Chaperon Rouge/Little Red Riding-Hood “She was astonished to see how her grandmother looked”

…from satire to history painting, delivering in turn, enormous canvases and more intimate paintings, flamboyant watercolours, virtuoso washes, incisive pen and ink drawings, engravings, fanciful illustrations, as well as Baroque, humorous, monumental and enigmatic sculptures.

Museum Deputy Director and Chief Curator Paul Lang describes Doré’s significance in this video.

One of the featured items for this event is  something called the Poem of the Vine: a four meter tall, 6,000 pound bronze sculpture that tells the story of the importance of wine, on loan from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Here’s a video on the instillation of that in Ottawa:

Looking through his work I realized I’d seen some without knowing who it was by. (In contrast, Dale Hobson knew Doré the second I proposed this topic.)

One reason I recommend going, if possible, to exhibits like this one is how original art can be enormously better than reproductions. I attended the 2012 exhibit on van Gogh and found it nothing less than stunning. It’s well-known that van Gogh laid his oils on thick. But only by seeing it in person could I appreciate how much that texture added. Van Gogh’s paintings are multi-dimensional in a magical way, changing at every angle of viewing. And you just can’t “see” that online or in a book.

So, if you already know and like Doré, or if you want to take advantage of a good opportunity to expand your horizons, here’s a good chance to do all that.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination runs through Sept 14.

Constructive destruction in Ottawa Sunday morning

Sir John Carling Building  image: P119, Creative Commons, some right reserved. Via Wikimedia Commons

Sir John Carling Building
image: P119, Creative Commons, some right reserved. Via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not sure how often big structures get blown up in this region, or if that’s the sort of thing you’ll go out of your way to watch.

But if explosive change strikes you as a marvel of ingenuity, than Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm near Dow’s Lake is the place to be this Sunday – from a safe distance, of course. That’s where a large, brick structure is going down with a bang at 7 a.m. Indeed, this is said to be the biggest controlled demolition in the city’s history.

The Sir John Carling Building (described as an “obsolete federal building tower”) will hopefully tumble down without mishap into 40,000 imperial tonnes of rubble. (Here’s the official summary of the building and the future of that site.)

Marie-Danielle Smith wrote up the building’s history for the Citizen:

It was designed by renowned architect Hart Massey to be the national headquarters for federal agriculture. The building went up in 1967, costing the government about $10 million.

The building was named after Sir John Carling, a businessman and politician who served as federal agriculture minister under Sir John A. Macdonald from 1885 to 1892.

According to a detailed Citizen preview by Ian MacLeod, the work will be done using 400 kilograms of explosives set in 2,000 charges. (As depicted in a Citizen diagram by Dennis Leung.)

The project went to real pros: Idaho-based Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc. under the watchful eyes of Eric “master blaster” Kelly:

The surrounding area is open Experimental Farm property, except for one critical obstacle. Just metres away, on the northwest side, sits a small, one-storey former cafeteria building known as the “West Annex.” It’s a heritage site the government wants protected.

So Kelly has to get the tower to fall to the southeast, just enough to miss demolishing it.

“This is a tough one,” says master blaster.

Kelly estimates he has “shot” close to 1,000 structures in his 35-year career. He holds world records. In 1994, he lit the fuse on 5,400 kilograms of explosives and toppled a 251,000-square-metre Sears building in Philadelphia, the largest U.S. structure ever demolished with explosives.

Advanced Explosives Demolition was the company hired to take down the Lake Champlain Bridge back in December of 2009, as seen here in slow-motion.

AED’s website (biggerblast.com) is a hoot, by the way. They have a YouTube page too. Both are worth a look. (The YouTube videos start with large buildings and includes a bunch of tall towers and smokestacks that might be even more interesting to watch come down.)

I’ll try post link(s) for video of the Ottawa event after it’s over. Watch this space for that. Not sure it will top the Champlain Bridge demo, though. That was amazing!

——-

Sunday update: here’s coverage of the implosion from CTV Ottawa.

Monday update: coverage from the Ottawa Citizen and the CBC.

Tourism exploding in some North Country towns, invisible in others

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a new Upstate New York tourism push in his State of the State Address on Wednesday.  (Photo:  NYS)

Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for more tourism in the North Country with more robust advertisement campaigns. (Photo: NYS)

I’ve been writing a lot recently about tourism in the Adirondacks and the North Country region more broadly.   What I’m finding is kind of a tale of two cities, or rather two very different types of small town.  Some communities in our region are really surfing the tourism wave.  Others, not so much.

“We’re extremely fortunate in the Adirondacks that our principal industry is tourism,” says Lake George Mayor Robert Blais.  In his community, tourism is booming so fiercely that they actually have growing pains.  They earn more from parking meters than some North Country villages earn from property taxes.

“No smokestacks, no getting up in the morning and reading the paper and finding out [the major employer] is going to close in six months. We’re part of the picture I think of the great Adirondack Park where families can come and find so many things to do,” Blais says.
Village of Lake George, NY. Photo: reivax, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Village of Lake George, NY. Photo: reivax, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

But in a detailed article for the Adirondack Explorer magazine, which you can read here in full, I found that a lot of the region just isn’t gaining much traction with that “principal industry.”

“Tourism’s heyday as we have traditionally defined it may be a bygone era,” warned Ernest Hohmeyer, owner of Lake Clear Lodge, who writes about economic issues in the Park.

While the Park’s visitor industry “will continue to play a dominant role” in hub towns such as Lake George and Old Forge, Hohmeyer and others are convinced that more remote Adirondack villages will struggle to compete. “Some of these communities are so small, their infrastructure is so out of date, and the amenities they offer no longer appeal to today’s visitor,” Hohmeyer said.

So what do you think?  Is tourism working in your town?  Are you in the industry?  If so, what does your community need to do to harness more visitors?

New stadium and new CFL team: the Ottawa Redblacks

Artist's rendering of the new stadium

Artist’s rendering of the new stadium, part of a major renovation project. Source: City of Ottawa

Sure, the FIFA World Cup has been really exciting. But in North America “football” still means moving a pointy pigskin up and down the field, with lots of padding and bruising tackles. The NFL stands on top of that heap, but there’s a Canadian Football League too. And Ottawa is rejoining that action.

Meet the Ottawa Redblacks - the capital region’s newest pro team. Their first game took place Thursday in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers. The (sold-out) home opener against the Toronto Argonauts is July 18 in a spanking new TD Place Stadium at the redeveloped Lansdowne Park.

This new reality was a long time coming, to the point where the Ottawa Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan writes it up as a minor miracle. According to Wikipedia:

This will be the third CFL team to play in the city. The Ottawa Rough Riders, formed in 1876, was a founding member of the CFL in 1958 and played until 1996. A new Ottawa franchise was formed as the “Renegades” in 2002, and lasted until the end of the 2005 season.

The name may seem awkward, but there’s lot behind it in terms of local symbolism, as detailed by team owner Jeff Hunt in the Ottawa Sun.

The whole issue of how to re-design historic Lansdowne Park and mitigate impacts on surrounding residents was one of the reasons this took so long. And there’s more to thrash out there, especially in terms of getting up to 24,000 fans to an urban home field with precious little space. As the Ottawa Citizen’s city reporter Joanne Chianello put it:

Redblacks organization to public: Please, for the love of God, do not drive your car to Lansdowne Park on game day.

And in case you didn’t hear him the first 12 times, the chief executive of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group has this to say to Redblacks ticket holders: “Do not leave home in your car and drive to the venue,” pleaded Bernie Ashe. “There will be no parking at the venue.”

Chianello says the over-all plans to push transit, cycling and walking seem not too bad, though there are bound to be bottlenecks in the area on game days. More transportation details were discussed in separate Citizen reporting by Matthew Pearson.

The new stadium replaces Frank Clair Stadium, shown here in 2004. Photo: Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

The new TD Place replaces Frank Clair Stadium, shown here in 2004. Photo: Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

And if you’re a fan of the other football (soccer) TD Place Stadium will host North American Soccer League games too.

  • July 20 – NASL Soccer: Welcome the Ottawa Fury FC to Lansdowne, as they take on the League Champion New York Cosmos.
  • July 23 – NASL Soccer: A once in a lifetime opportunity to see a special exhibition match between the Ottawa Fury FC and the storied Rangers FC from Glasgow.

Football – of both types! Ottawa will once again have more on tap than NHL hockey.

 

International musicians rejoice: Canada drops “tour tax”

Enjoying a Mariachi band at Rideau Hall's 2011 concert series. Photo: Lucy Martin

Mariachi band at Rideau Hall’s 2011 summer concert series. Photo: Lucy Martin

Here’s a heads up for musicians impacted by a hefty fees imposed on small gigs in Canada.

An unpopular requirement, dubbed the “tour tax,” was recently eliminated as part of the government’s overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program.

According to coverage from the Canadian Press, musician and New Democratic Party MP, Andrew Cash, thought the fee was mistaken from the get-go:

“They corrected something incredibly dumb that they shouldn’t have implemented in the first place,” he said.

“The music sector wasn’t abusing the temporary foreign worker program, and there was no consultation in advance of the government’s decision,” he said.

“There was no one asking for it, in fact.”

To re-cap, last summer Canada imposed a work permit requirement with higher fees for international musicians wishing to play at smaller venues in Canada. (For some reason, larger venues were exempt.)

Here’s how that was reported on CBC at the time:

Before these changes were made, a one-time fee was required of $150 for each member of the band and was capped at $450. These fees are normally subsidized by venues across Canada as a shared cost and paid as an incentive to bring bands north of the border. Now live music venues must pay the inflated rate of $275 per artist as well as their entourage (manager, roadie, wardrobe, etc.) without a cap, as well as pay an extra $150 for each band member and crew member’s work permit.

 If the applications for the work permits are declined, the fees are non-refundable and would be required once again for another application.

The requirement generated at least one petition asking it be repealed. there were also complaints the measure imposed excessive costs for smaller venues, while shrinking the musical menu for Canadian audiences.

This strikes me as a good development. Close cross border ties have long been a plus in this region and music is one of the best ways for people to bond and connect.

So, area musicians, were you affected by that rule? Will any of you be playing in Canada more often now?

Just be careful your instruments don’t contain ivory, that’s become a sensitive issue for re-entry into the U.S.

St. Lawrence Wine Trail is all but a done deal

The planned St. Lawrence Wine Trail. Image via Patty Ritchie's office

The planned St. Lawrence Wine Trail. Image via Patty Ritchie’s office

Good news for North Country wine lovers this afternoon, as a bill to create the St. Lawrence Wine Trail (here’s a full list of the state’s wine trails) has now passed both houses. North Country Sens. Patty Ritchie, Joe Griffo and Betty Little cosponsored the bill; it now goes to Gov. Cuomo’s desk for a signature. Here’s more, from a press release from Sen. Ritchie’s office:

State Senator Patty Ritchie’s plan to create a “St. Lawrence Wine Trail,” highlighting for tourists and local residents the growing number of wineries and quality wines produced in the North Country, was approved by the Senate today. The bill (S.6321) now goes to the Governor for his signature.

The proposed St. Lawrence County Wine Trail stretches more than 80 miles, meandering alongside Black Lake, through Morristown, Ogdensburg, Canton, Potsdam, Stockholm and Brasher Falls, and links three existing wineries in Hammond, Lisbon and Winthrop, as well as the county’s new craft brewery. The route was designed jointly by Senator Ritchie, local tourism leaders and wine producers themselves.

“From our beautiful rivers and lakes, to our quaint villages, woods, fields and farms, there’s already a lot to love about St. Lawrence County. Our new Wine Trail will help us show off all that the North Country has to offer, and one more thing, as well—our good taste,” said Senator Ritchie.

“The trail will be a boon to our local wine producers, as well as to businesses and communities all along the way—in addition to touring wineries and purchasing their fine products, tourists will see the many unique communities, rolling countryside and off-the-beaten-track attractions that help make this region so special, and their welcome tourist dollars can help fuel local economies and create jobs.”

The St. Lawrence Wine Trail will be at least the 18th, celebrating wine making across New York State. Senator Ritchie said she plans to introduce legislation that will seek to connect the routes in the future.

Is the penny still useful?

Canadians all know, and In Box readers may recall, that the penny was killed in this country over a year ago.

My two cents: in 2014, these were the only pennies I could find in our house! photo: Lucy Martin

My two cents worth: these were the only pennies I could find in our house to illustrate this post. Photo: Lucy Martin

Oh, one can still spend a penny, or turn them in for larger denominations. Donating any cached pennies to charity is a popular option. But when making purchases in stores across Canada, prices are now rounded up or down to the nearest nickel.

What’s that been like? Writing a one-year retrospective for Postmedia News, Willian Wolfe-Wylie reports

One Quebecer decided to track it and actually find out. Roger Guitar has written letters to the editor to several newspapers to let them know that he tracked every one of his cash purchases for 1 year, from April to May, and found out that he came out ahead of the game: By 89-cents!

Well done, Roger.

The article includes a chart of different price points for rounding pennies by province.

Speaking personally, I got used to the change almost instantly. I recently spent several weeks back in my home state where getting pennies back as change came as an annoyance. It felt like the only (and I mean the only) reason to bother with pennies at all would be to avoid getting more of the little pests back in other transactions.

This ABC news item (which lists no year) says “Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., has introduced a bill to get rid of the penny.” Further fact-checking suggests that bill dates to 2001, that Kolbe left that office in 2006 and the matter is not under current consideration. Most of the discussion I found on the topic (on dropping the penny in the U.S.) is at least a year old. So this doesn’t seem like a hot topic at present. But it’s a persistent one.

There is a U.S. group set up for that sole cause: Retire the Penny. Meanwhile, this commentary in Forbes speaks in favor of keeping the humble copper-ish coin.

How about it, my fellow Americans? Is the penny worth the bother? Or does it deserve continued use?

Ottawa bike-sharing under new management

A Bixi bike-share station in Ottawa last June. Photo: Lucy Martin

A Bixi bike-share station in Ottawa last June. Photo: Lucy Martin

Readers may recall the Bixi bike share system in cities like Ottawa and New York City. Despite Bixi’s slew of financial and managerial problems, a recent press release suggests continued support for that form of rented transportation in Canada’s Capital region:

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is pleased to announce the transfer of its bike share program, Capital BIXI, to CycleHop, LLC, effective April 17, 2014. The new owner and operator will resume the bike share service in the core of Ottawa–Gatineau by this summer 2014, while making plans for system expansion.

CycleHop CEO Josh Squire positioned bike sharing as a plus for both residents and visitors, calling it “…a fun way to get around. It is good for your personal health, and for the health of our planet.” According to the NCC’s media release:

CycleHop is committed to doubling the size of the current program within the next few years, at its own expense. The current public bike share program serves the downtown core of Ottawa and Gatineau, with 250 bicycles at 25 locations. CycleHop also plans to work on increasing participation among individuals and corporate users, enhancing customer service, and renewing the public’s enthusiasm and support for the program.

The Ottawa Citizen says Bixi opened its very first bike share system in Montréal, with Ottawa being the second such effort, since June of 2009.

CycleHop operates bike-sharing systems in Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix, Atlanta and Louisville.

The Bixi rental season was due to begin in mid-April this year. On Thursday, the NCC said the new owner will resume the bike share service by this summer.

But Squire said it might happen sooner than that.

Earlier this week, the Montréal Gazette reported Bixi bikes are once more being rented in that city and that over 3,000 bikes should be in service by month’s end.

According to various media sources, Bixi’s international operations were recently sold to Montreal furniture manufacturer Bruno Rodi for a reported $4 million dollars.

An article about the convoluted Bixi saga in the Atlantic, makes parts of the bankruptcy mess sound almost exciting, even exotic:

Who is Rodi, anyway? Well, have you ever seen those Dos Equis ads featuring “the most interesting man in the world”? This dude gives that one a run for his money, and in real life. The owner of the furniture company Rodi, “le spécialiste du sofa,” is also a world traveler who has undertaken an almost ridiculous number of adventures and was reportedly on a boat in the Indian Ocean while the Bixi sale was going down.

They just look like a rack of clunky bikes. Apparently there’s plenty going on behind the scenes.

The loonie takes a tumble

Compared to a U.S. greenback, the Canadian dollar is currently worth about 90 cents. Photo: Lucy Martin

Compared to a U.S. greenback, the Canadian dollar is currently worth about 10 cents less. Photo: Lucy Martin

After a period of relative strength or parity, the Canadian dollar recently dropped to roughly ninety cents against one U.S. dollar. (As of Friday, at least. Rates do fluctuate.)

Those familiar with economics know the various ins and outs of such a development. For regular folks here’s how that plays out in lay terms: travel and shopping in the U.S. is now more expensive for Canadians and Canada is back “on sale” for Americans, at 10% off!

The CBC has a short “winners and losers” list here.

Why is the loonie weaker?  Those who live in that world cite things like monetary policy, commodity prices and signals from regulatory agencies, as with this dissection in the Globe and Mail on Thursday:

“Until today, the Bank of Canada had been careful not to open talk down the loonie,” chief economist Douglas Porter of BMO Nesbitt Burns said late yesterday in a research note titled “BoC declares open season on loonie.”

“They effectively gave sellers the green light in today’s monetary policy report by stating that even with the big drop in recent weeks, it remained high and would still ‘pose a competitiveness challenge for Canada’s non-commodity exports,” he added.

“As if on cue, the currency promptly fell another 1 per cent on Wednesday.”

As reported by the Canadian Press, the ruling conservatives feel this can be a good thing, while political opponents say “not so fast”:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has made a point of noting that a weak dollar can spur economic growth by boosting exports — a boon for a government with its sights set squarely on balancing the books.

The loonie slid to 90.10 cents U.S. on Thursday, dipping briefly under the 90 cent mark for the first time since mid-2009. It’s lost four cents since Dec. 31 due to a combination of factors including a strengthening U.S. dollar, weak prices for commodities and Canada’s low-interest, low-inflation environment.

But the economy can’t turn so quickly to take advantage of a lower dollar, said NDP finance critic Peggy Nash. Many of manufacturing jobs that were lost under the Tories’ watch aren’t coming back.

The economy is underperforming and the Tories are “desperate to show that they can balance the books before the 2015 election and trying everything possible to do that,” Nash said.

For our region, the boom in cross-border Canadian shopping and travel may slow somewhat.

Meanwhile, merchants and travel destinations across Ontario and Quebec are hoping lots of Americans will return the favor of these familiar economic shifts. For now, at least, it’ll be “Come on over, your money buys more here!”

Financial woes for Bixi bike rentals

Rental and return station in Ottawa, July 2013. Photo: Lucy Martin

A bicycle rent and return station in Ottawa, July 2013. Photo: Lucy Martin

What if visitors and residents in key urban areas could grab, ride and return a bike – fast and easy – for a reasonable fee?

That’s the idea for a variety of fairly new enterprises in places like Montréal, Ottawa and New York City. Karen Kelly tried out Ottawa’s Bixi rental system for NCPR back in July of 2012.

As you might expect, there are pros and cons for the idea in theory and even more wrinkles in practice. Kelly found parts of Ottawa’s system confusing or inconvenient, for example. And bike stations in NYC have also spurred some criticism, as reported in the New York Times last May:

Bike share was easy for New York City to love in the abstract. It was not about adding bike lanes at the expense of something else; it was about sharing something that did not yet exist.

But with the program two weeks away, many New Yorkers have turned against bike share, and for one simple reason: They did not expect it to look like this.

But now the crucial issue is financial. As reported by the CBC the parent company recently filed for bankruptcy protection:

The company that ownsBixi — the Public Bike System Company, known in French as the Sociétéde vélos en libre-service(SVLS) — owes $50 million to various creditors, including the City of Montreal.

Coderre said rather that sinking more money into the SVLS, a private company, the city would take over Bixi’s Montreal assets. He said they are worth approximately $11 million.

It gets worse for Montréal taxpayers, as reported for the Montréal Gazette by Any Riga:

 Bixi was not supposed to cost them a cent but Montreal taxpayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars, the city admitted Monday.

If you’re curious how company debt could run into the $50 million range, Forbes has more about that here, including sums owed in New York City and Chicago.

The story is slightly different in Ottawa, as explained in additional CBC coverage:

The National Capital Commission owns the 250 Bixi bikes and 25 Bixi stations, but the Montreal company has a contract to run the program until the end of the 2015 season.

NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff said Ottawa hasn’t been told the contract is in trouble.

“It’s too early to talk about impact … We’re pretty sure it will start as scheduled,” Wolff said.

Wolff said the program has been a success in terms of rising ridership, but concedes it hasn’t made any money.

The NCC has been trying to get some other entity to take the program over, but so far there have been no offers. It plans to go ahead as scheduled to start this year’s program on April 15.

This is not a time of year when many thoughts turn to noodling about on bicycles. But this development indicates the goal of encouraging easy cycling options may be easier to envision than to implement.