Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

A happy return for the St-Albert Co-op

St Albert Cheese Co-op celebrates their come-back from a devastating fire in 2013. Image: St Albert Co-op, Facebook

St Albert Co-op celebrates their come-back from a devastating fire in 2013. Image: St Albert Co-op, Facebook

Once upon a time in our greater region, chocolate lovers knew that Smiths Falls, Ontario was a special destination. The town’s Hershey Chocolate plant was where generations of school groups went for factory tours. And where chocoholics like me went to stock up at the souvenir and factory seconds store.

Alas, those days are long gone. But let me tell you about a new food-related destination: Ontario’s St-Albert Co-op.  (St-Albert is about 40 minutes north-west of Cornwall, Ontario.)

Readers may recall the town of St. Albert was devastated when, on Feb 3, 2013, a massive fire destroyed their cheese factory. It was the mainstay of a dairy co-op founded in 1894, and a source of award-winning cheese.

In true co-op style, the dairy farms, co-op workers and town residents vowed to carry on and re-build.

Flash forward to a grand official re-opening, two years to the date, celebrating a new factory, a functioning restaurant and the realization of some very hard work.

From a co-op press release:

“We are so happy to turn the page on this sad chapter in our Co-op’s story. Happy and proud. Because here we are, bigger, stronger and more determined than ever to continue the tradition of our ancestors by making the best cheese in the country,” indicated the Co-op’s President, Ginette Quesnel. The new building measures 75,000 square feet, which is larger than the old one. It contains a restaurant and a shop, as well as a section that will eventually be turned into a museum, and it provides visitors with a terrific view of the cheese production area. As for the production capacity, it is now three times what it was before.

As recounted by this Ottawa Citizen article (with video):

The total cost of the reconstruction was more than $30 million. The result is a state-of-the art 75,000-square-foot building that is about 30 per cent bigger than the original factory. The building, with its wood and stone exterior, incorporates rustic features such as barn-wood doors and columns set against a modern, open space that includes a new restaurant with comfort food such as sandwiches, soup and poutine that, of course, incorporates a lot of cheese.

The store is also three times the size of the original, with local niche products such as chutneys, honey, oils and vinegar. And given it has always been a tourism hub, there is also a section that will soon be turned into a museum that will additionally provide visitors with a clear view of the new cheese production area.

St-Albert cheese and their famed cheese curds are considered a local mainstay. After all, the products are sold at some 2,000 locations in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

But now you can also go to the source and watch how it’s done in person. And buy some cheese, or a meal, including vegetarian poutine (menu available as a .pdf download here.)

All in all, it’s a good example of preserving and promoting a regional way of life.

This region's affection for poutine made with fresh cheese curds cannot be overstated. Image: St Albert Cheese Co-op, Facebook

Cultural affection for poutine – made with fresh cheese curds – cannot be overstated. Image: St Albert Cheese Co-op, Facebook

Welcoming Winterlude – now “on sale” for Americans!


Winterlude on the Rideau Canal Skateway 2014. Photo: Lucy Martin

Winterlude on the Rideau Canal Skateway 2014. Photo: Lucy Martin

Ottawa’s main winter event officially kicks off today, with a long list of activities and displays. Winterlude runs for the next three weekends, including Feb 16, to take in a holiday Monday in Ontario.

The weekends are thick with all manner of supplemental events. But the Rideau Canal Skateway and displays like ice sculptures, Snowflake Kingdom slides, etc. are available each and every day, weather permitting. Most events are free, and that includes shuttle busses between venues.

Speaking of weather for Winterlude, no mushy melt this time around. Not for opening weekend anyway, when “bundle up” will the word to the wise.

NCPR makes a point of carefully vetting these activities over the years, individually or on bus tours. Here’s David Sommerstein interviewing young experts about the slides at the Snowflake Kingdom in 2011.  Sarah Harris took her Mom to skate the canal last year.

Ice slides at Winterlude 2007. Image: John Vetterli,  Creatve Commons

Ice slides at Winterlude 2007. Image: John Vetterli, Creative Commons

Yours truly did a sunset skate this past Tuesday. (The ice was rated as “good” and it was just that. Hard, clean, safe.) It was nippy enough to need a face scarf. But it was also peaceful, uncrowded and wonderfully uplifting.

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“Off peak” skaters practically have the canal almost to themselves. Photo: Lucy Martin

Most of the time I am happy to live out in the sticks, in rural Ottawa. But there are times (and that skate was one of them) when I deeply regret not living where it would be easy to enjoy the canal every day.

Partially due to the slump in oil prices, the Canadian dollar continues to slide, down to rounded-number of 78 cents against the U.S. Dollar by week’s end. Or, for the U.S. visitor, your dollar is now worth roughly $1.27! (Less conversion fees, if any.) A good reason to come, if the skating and extra events aren’t tempting enough on their own.

OK, it’s not all about stimulating the Canadian economy. It’s about embracing the season with your own community. If travel is not on your agenda, check out your own local winter festivals. Because February is short. This too shall pass.

I know! The winter weary say “thank goodness for that!” Meanwhile, count me in the group that finds this time of year something to savor.

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Heading out for an evening skate at Dow’s Lake (January 2015). Photo: Lucy Martin

Canada’s role in the U.S./Cuba rapprochement

Old American car in Havanna with the Capitol in the Background. Image: Severin.stalder, Creative Commons.

Old American car in Havanna with the Capitol in the Background. Image: Severin.stalder, Creative Commons.

Headlines are supposed to be simple attention grabbers, without words that throw the reader off. But “rapprochement” is just the right term for what’s been announced. As defined by Merriam-Webster, it means “the development of friendlier relations between countries or groups of people who have been enemies”.

This past week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro surprised many with news that diplomatic relations will be normalized. (Read/hear both announcements here, from President Obama and President Castro.)

Fully lifting the embargo that dates from 1960 would require further Congressional action. But this news represents a huge shift in a major geo-political deadlock.

The unsung supporting players for this development are reported to include Pope Francis and Canada.

While Canada is usually thrilled to be a player on the world stage, this case is slightly awkward because the current government has been a vocal critic of the Castro regime.

Even while criticizing political repression in Cuba, Canada has long favored (and practiced) relatively  normal relations with that nation, often to great displeasure in U.S. circles.

Many of the secret talks (labeled “indispensible” by senior Obama administration officials) that lead to this major announcement were held in Canada.

As reported by Stewart Bell for the Ottawa Citizen:

“Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after the surprise announcement.

On friendly terms with both nations, and trusted not to leak news of the delicate talks, Canada was uniquely placed to host the delegations, said Prof. Dane Rowlands, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked about Canada’s role in a major year-end interview on CBC. On Cuba, Harper had this to say:

“I think that’s an economy and a society just overdue for entry into the 21st century. Time will tell, but I think probably when the current generation of leadership passes you’ll see some changes,” Harper said.

The prime minister added that he looked forward to seeing democratic elections in Cuba.

“This is really the only place where there are elections that are completely non-competitive. And it would be nice to see that happen in Cuba and I think eventually it will.”

Opposition leaders in Canada welcomed the development too, as recounted by the Ottawa Citizen.

“I thank our Canadian diplomats for their hard work on this file,” NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said in a statement. “This is what diplomacy looks like, and Canada is very good at it. Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau characterized the change as a constructive, welcome development and praised Canada’s role in bringing nations together. (Note: Fidel Castro and Pierre Trudeau had a long friendship. Castro attended the senior Trudeau’s state funeral in 2000.)

The downside for Canadians may come in terms of having to share what had been a semi-exclusive Caribbean get away spot with throngs of eager Americans.

The Ottawa Citizen reports Canadians make up 36% of tourists in Cuba. Indeed, Cuba is Canada’s third most popular travel destination after the U.S. and Mexico. More than a million Canadians traveled to Cuba 2012 alone, contributing an estimated $748 million to the Cuban economy.

This Toronto Star article suggests the entry of American tourists could diminish the Canadian tourist experience there.

Jury Krytiuk, head of the Cuban travel department at Toronto-area agency A. Nash Travel Inc., says an affordable vacation in a relatively pristine landscape will be harder to come by in the years to come.

Prices will surge as restrictions on American travellers ease, he said, adding Cuba will also have to adjust its tourism infrastructure to accommodate an influx of new visitors.

“There’s a limited amount of accommodation, so there’s going to have to be a lot of hotels built, especially in the cities, to accommodate people who want to visit,” Krytiuk said in a telephone interview.

The Washington Post put all that in this headline: “Great news, America: Canada says you’e going to like Cuba

The New York Times had this Q & A on “How Travel to Cuba May Change“. The article says it’s too early to know what shifts will come, or when. But interest is decidedly keen.

Remembering René Chartrand, “catman” of Parliament Hill

The Canadian Parliamentary Cats being cared for by René Chartrand at their shelter. Image: Montrealais, Creative Commons

The Canadian Parliamentary Cats being cared for by René Chartrand at their shelter. Image: Montrealais (2007) Creative Commons

Public radio has a soft spot for off-beat stories. Topics that reveal subtle qualities about people, places or things.

In 2011, Todd Moe profiled a famous oddity of Canada’s legislative capital, a warmly-regarded cat sanctuary on the grounds of Parliament Hill.

As a public servant at the Parliamentary Library told Moe, “There’s nothing better than leaving a meeting, frustrated, and coming here and petting a cat! It makes the whole day better!”

Workers there had fed feral cats on a casual basis for many years. But in the 1970’s Irène Desormeaux made that her own mission. Described by some as a classic cat lady (not very interested in humans) her devotion was picked up by a friend and fellow animal-lover, René Chartrand.

Chartrand was bi-lingual and engaging. He and a cadre of helpers built shelters and talked to strolling visitors. The kitty-condo spot became quite popular with hill staffers and the hundreds of thousands who tour Parliament Hill each year.  Here’s a story about that from the Cats of Parliament Hill Facebook page:

I will always remember the day a group of Japanese tourists visited the sanctuary, as they were leaving, one woman came up to me and asked, “Is there anything else worth seeing around here?” Of course I told her about the rest of Parliament Hill, but deep inside I wanted to say, “No, not really.” The tour left the Hill without any further sightseeing. They had come to see the cats. That was enough. (KJG)

Of course, Parliament Hill is well worth seeing. (More info, including how to enjoy free guided tours, can be found here.) However, the Hill’s famed cat sanctuary is no more. That was shuttered in January of 2013, with the last remaining residents being adopted into permanent homes.

This past week, René Chartrand died, age 92. As reported by Blair Crawford for the Ottawa Citizen, Chartrand had tended his feline friends as long as he could, for a stretch of 21 years.

Chartrand, a retired blue-collar worker and air force veteran who grew up in Lowertown, became the cat caretaker almost by accident. The first person to feed the Hill cats was his neighbour Irene Desormeaux. When she fell ill in 1987, Chartrand offered to take over. It was supposed to be temporary, but when Desormeaux died, Chartrand stepped up.

“He made a promise that he would feed them and he did,” Caines said. “He did it until he was no longer able to. [Brian Caines, retired public servant, friend and helper of Chartrand].

“He was there every day. He was there the day his wife died. On the 9/11 lockdown, he was about the only civilian let on the Hill. He was so well known and the cats were so well known they made an exception for him to get up there.”

Chartrand will be remembered at a memorial service, Dec. 29 at the Coopérative funéraire de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, Quebec.

Farewell to one of many unique individuals who make our world all the more humane and interesting.

Lower energy prices weaken Canadian dollar

The 10% off sale is back, for U.S. shopper, anyway. Image: Lucy Martin

The 10% off sale is back – for U.S. shoppers. Image: Lucy Martin

When it comes to exchange rates, there’s the big economic picture and the personal slant, as in “where will my dollar go farther?”

Right now it’s more expensive for Canadians to buy U.S. goods, or travel there.

But Canada is back “on sale” for American visitors. The Canadian dollar hit a 5-year low this past week, trading at 87.80.

Obviously, this number fluctuates. When this post was written on Friday, the Canadian dollar was back to 89 cents. But that’s still 10% off parity, in favor of the U.S. consumer.

Why the drop? Well, that’s what happens when a national economy relies so heavily on resource extraction. Or so say many experts. As reported by CBC:

In terms of currencies, “oil” and “Canada” have become synonymous in recent years, so the loonie is paying the price. “The weakness in oil prices is spilling over in a nasty fashion in Canada,” said Mark Chandler at RBC Dominion Securities.

“The more oil prices fall, the more [the loonie will drop],” Jeremy Stretch at CIBC added.

This post starts with the exchange rate in terms of cross-border travel. But when it comes to money and energy, the story gets very broad indeed. There’s a lot going on in terms of oil supply and price. But the energy boom in North America is inseparable from a larger global market, with ramifications for all.

The Economist framed the issue of falling oil prices as a question “Is that good or bad news for the world economy?”  And answered thusly:

This time, though, matters are less clear cut. The big economic question is whether lower prices reflect weak demand or have been caused by a surge in the supply of crude. If weak demand is the culprit, that is worrying: it suggests the oil price is a symptom of weakening growth. If the source of weakness is financial (debt overhangs and so on), then cheaper oil may not boost growth all that much: consumers may simply use the gains to pay down their debts. Indeed, in some countries, cheaper oil may even make matters worse by increasing the risk of deflation. On the other hand, if plentiful supply is driving prices down, that is potentially better news: cheaper oil should eventually boost spending in the world’s biggest economies.

The CBC’s Don Pittis expounds on similar themes from the Canadian perspective, with observations on why high cost extraction (like Canada’s oil sands, or fracking) sometimes continues even when crude oil from the middle east costs less. And while oil looms large in this story, there are other sectors to consider too:

…it is not all bad for the Canadian economy as a whole. Lower oil prices will result in what we might call reverse Dutch disease.

As described by NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz, Dutch disease means the loonie gets pushed up by oil exports, pricing Canada’s manufactured goods out of world markets.

Pittis senses a sea change, though. He thinks oil is the past and the world will (must?) transition to alternative energies. A change energy-dependent economies would do well to anticipate.

Bertram drilling's oil sands corings hard at work in the oil sands basin in Alberta. Image: Energold-company, Creative Commons

Bertram drilling’s oil sands corings hard at work in the oil sands basin in Alberta. Image: Energold-company, Creative Commons

Adirondack Flames mascot “Scorch” gets benched.

Penalty box for you, Scorchy!  Photo:  Glens Falls Post Star used with permission

Penalty box for you, Scorchy! Photo: Glens Falls Post Star used with permission

UPDATE:  The Glens Falls Post Star is reporting this morning that the Flames will officially replace “Scorch,” their controversial mascot.  GFPS reporter Maury Thompson reports that Scorch has “benched” even before taking the ice.

Why did the lovable, hockey-puck headed firebrand get doused?  Read on.

This is an actual, real thing.  The brand new Adirondack Flames hockey team, based in Glens Falls, went public last week with their new mascot:  a bright-red fiery looking dude with a hockey-puck head named “Scorch.”  So far, so good.

But the new pro-team’s PR department came up with the whizzy idea of creating “background material” for the character, deciding that he would be known forever-more as the “remaining ember  from the tragic fire that destroyed much of Glens Falls in 1864.”

Now, we’re already on thin ice there.  (Memo to creative team:  Why exactly does kid-friendly Scorch need to be the love-child of a disastrous inferno that destroyed our new host city?)

But it gets worse, or better.  Here’s the press release from the team explaining what happened next:

“We also crafted a skit that helped to launch the new mascot – with the help of the Glens Falls Fire Department.  While it seemed in good taste when it was on the drawing board, it is evident now that it was in poor taste.”
In a Tweet reproduced on the popular national sports site Deadspin on Thursday, Diana Nearhos observed, “In the telling of his story, Scorch overpowered a firefighter.  That happened.”
“On behalf of our entire organization we want to apologize for our thoughtlessness today,” the team said.
“We have obviously turned something good, the launch of a mascot which we will use to entertain and encourage young fans, into something that is in poor taste,” said Brian Petrovek, president of the Flames.
“That was not our intention and again we apologize.  We would like to emphasize that we as an organization take seriously the dangers associated with fire, understand its potentially devastating effects and acknowledge that those in our nation who are called upon to face and fight fires on a daily basis are truly heroes. “

I’m guessing Scorch will bounce back from the bad publicity.  Any creature with a Hostess Ding-Dong for a head is bound to have a long shelf life.

But the Flames skated into more tough publicity over the weekend, dropping their two opening games by lopsided margins (like, a total of 11 goals to 2), with Flames player Trevor Gillies drawing headlines for slamming an opposing player’s head into the ice.  From the video, it looks like Gillies is taking fight advice from Scorch.

Craft beer festival highlights local brews and foods in Ottawa

Just two of many craft beers featured at this weekend's festival. Photo: Lucy Martin

Just two of many craft beers featured at this weekend’s festival. Photo: Lucy Martin

On paper at least, mid-August probably charts as a brilliant time to hold a beer festival, like the National Capital Craft Beer Festival, taking place in Ottawa this weekend – like, right now!

Regrettably, as I wrote this the projected high for Friday was no higher than 15C/69F. (Ugh!)

OK, that’s not the greatest beer-drinking weather ever. Although the weekend looks warmer still and summer is not dead yet. Besides, beer works year-round, right?

I was about to throw in the famous line attributed to Benjamin Franklin (“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) except that’s a mis-mash. According to Bryce Eddings at About, Franklin said no such thing, though he wrote something really close:

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

Wine, beer, even rain. It’s all good.

The Ottawa beer event will, of course, spotlight local craft brews. And food. But the Ottawa Citizen says the third annual event includes a “solid musical line up”, as detailed in this schedule. It’s happening at City Hall’s Marion Dewer Plaza, 110 Laurier Ave, West. (Admission charges apply, must be 19 or older for entry.)

The new book by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John

The new book by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John.

While on the topic of regional brewing, I wanted to mention that Kingston beer blogger (and long-time friend of the station) Alan McLeod has a new book out, co-written by Jordan St. John, Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay.

Truth be told, after a sip or two, I don’t even like beer. But it’s such a common part of life, and seems like such an exciting aspect of the local food movement, that I often wish I did! See what I mean by way of the book’s summary:

Ontario boasts a potent mix of brewing traditions. Wherever Europeans explored, battled, and settled, beer was not far behind, which brought the simple magic of brewing to Ontario in the 1670s. Early Hudson’s Bay Company traders brewed in Canada’s Arctic, and Loyalist refugees brought the craft north in the 1780s. Early 1900s temperance activists drove the industry largely underground but couldn’t dry up the quest to quench Ontarians’ thirst. The heavy regulation that replaced prohibition centralized surviving breweries. Today, independent breweries are booming and writing their own chapters in the Ontario beer story.

Sample sections expounding on that blend of hops and history can be previewed online too.

It’s a similar tale on both sides of the border, of course. As Brian Mann reported last September, craft beers are exploding across the North Country, creating jobs and recognition of the area.

Responsible drinkers can therefore hoist a few frothy mugs while taking satisfaction in stimulating local economic diversity.

The long-running issue of “car culture”

Traffic jams are a normal feature of modern life. Should they be? (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Traffic jams – a norm of modern life. Should they be?   (Image source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Sometimes we’re just fish in water, oblivious to our own surroundings.

That was part of the message two tourists from Europe shared recently, in an “Open letter to the people who hold power and responsibility in Canada.” In it, they found fault with pretty much the whole way people use cars in that country.

According to various media reports, English-born Holly Chabowski, 30, toured parts of Canada with a friend from Denmark, Nanna Sorensen, 23. The two spent time in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, and Halifax. They also rented a car and saw various parks, including Algonquin, as part of their 5-week visit.

Apparently, on the whole, they encountered an unhappy shock. It stands to reason they found lots of cars, highways and congestion in those major urban centers. But they were equally appalled by a sense of active bias against anything that wasn’t car-oriented:

As we explored more of the country we tried to console ourselves that at least a few cities were making an effort to make life liveable for humans – small local businesses, cycle infrastructure and pedestrianised streets. However, it felt like a token gesture rather than a genuine effort to make Canada a healthy, happy and sustainable country. Pedestrians were squeezed onto narrow pavements and forced to stop every 100m to cross the road, bike lanes were little more than paint on the ground for the cyclists to help protect the parked cars lining every street. We heard that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is actually tearing up bicycle lanes to make way for more cars!

Walking and cycling are human activities that bring great life, health and economy to communities. Streets that prioritize cars over humans are bad for business, bad for health (mental, social and physical), unsafe and break down communities.

Rebuttals flew. Hey, ladies! Get real! Canada is big, OK? “Need-a-car-just-to-get-around” big. And Canadian winters are no walk in the park either. There’s simply no comparison between here and what works in smaller, milder places like Denmark.

According to a follow-up article by Michael Woods in the Ottawa Citizen, Mayor Jim Watson distances his city from any “car culture” rap, insisting that Ottawa takes great pride in being clean and green. Watson also thinks the two tourists gave scant account to the question of scale:

“Copenhagen is about 88 square kilometres and Ottawa is about 2,800 square kilometres,” he said. “We have 32 times the land mass, so we don’t have the luxury of everything crammed together in a small European city. We have people that live a hundred kilometres from our downtown core. There is a need for streets and there’s a need for places for people to park.”

Still, it’s not too hard to find voices in support of the “car culture” complaint. The Citizen quoted urban planning expert Barry Wellar, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Ottawa:

“Ottawa has itself an immense hole. When you do things wrong year after year, decade after decade, instant solutions don’t happen.”

Wellar said he wrote a paper nearly 40 years ago, in 1975, titled Taking Steps Toward the End of the Automobile Era. He said much of the advice in that paper, such as giving buses the ability to control traffic lights, has not been followed.

“I wrote 39 years ago what these ladies are writing about now,” he said. “My guess it these ladies from Europe could come back in 40 years and it’ll be déjà vu all over again. … We have a car-centric society.”

The list of problems facing car-centric transportation models is pretty obvious: sprawl, expense, pollution, more carbon emissions, less-pleasant surroundings and a diminished sense of community, plus significant numbers killed or injured in highway accidents, and higher rates of obesity, with all the health issues that carries.

One could counter that it was highways and mobility that gave rise to our current economic development and high standard of living. But does anyone still think we can simply build our way out of the problems individual car use has also created?

I should add the travelers found a great deal they liked about Canada too. They just think the whole car thing needs work.

Chabowski furthered the pair’s initial letter with this: “Why I wrote about Canada’s car culture“. In which she responds to the responses, included an assertion that she’s not asking for cars to go away. She’s asking for more choices that doesn’t put cars first and people second.

Which does seem like a reasonable topic for conscious consideration.

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 ( 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.