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We finished our trip at PIO Peruvian Rotisserie Restaurant, capping off a wonderful week. This restaurant is in a small store in a suburban power centre. It was busy even late in the evening, and seemed to be serving Calgary’s Peruvian community, which is always a good sign. I had a roast chicken with beef sausage and “sunshine rice”. It wasn’t too expensive, either.

So, we may have somewhat underestimated the amount of driving we’d have to do to get from Calgary to Saskatoon. It was worth going, as now Erin has reference material for her story featuring somebody trying to cross a depopulated Saskatchewan on horseback. Indeed, she has a lot of reference material. Strangely enough, though, the trip back from Saskatoon to Calgary didn’t feel quite so arduous, because we knew where Calgary was, rather than wondering where Saskatoon was. It’s interesting to think that just a little bit of familiarity of the route was enough to make the trip easier.

In Saskatoon, we toured the dump. Yes, we came to Saskatoon to visit its dump (it’s part of Erin’s writing research), but we also walked the riverfront, took pictures of the bridges, and then met author Arthur Slade and his daughter for supper at the famous McNally Robinson Booksellers. So, all in all, well worth the seven hour drive each way.

Our drive also included brief stops in Drumheller, Alberta, which really deserves its own day trip. We weren’t able to visit the Badlands, the Hoodoos, or the dinosaur museum, but the entrance and the exit to the city is a highlight of the drive. I was driving along the highway, wondering where Drumheller was, surrounded by fields and pasture and then — BOOM — the road dips into a gully and descends into a hidden world. I complained about the number of billboards on the eastbound trip, but intriguingly, the road leading out of Drumheller to the north was billboard free. Clearly, the advertisers know where most of Drumheller’s traffic is coming from.

As much fun as we’ve had and as much as we’ve seen, we’re still looking forward to coming home, hugging our kids, and sleeping in our own bed tomorrow night. That’s another good thing that trips do: make you appreciate coming home.

Click here for more photos of our drive through Drumheller and Saskatoon.

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Tue, Sep
23
2014

Whoop Up

Rail Wheel Sculpture

Monday was a travel day, as we left Lethbridge and headed back to Calgary, but we didn’t hit the road right away. Instead, we checked out the coulee behind the Lethbridge Lodge, and found ourselves on a trail to Fort Whoop-Up.

The current Fort Whoop-Up is an “authentic recreation” of the original “whiskey fort” that was set up on or near the site in the mid 1870s by Montana traders. The fort traded with the local Blackfoot nation, exchanging guns, gear, blankets and whiskey for the furs the Blackfoot brought in. The Northwest Mounted Police intervened in the early 1880s to bring the fort under Canadian control, but it doesn’t specify if they ended the practise of trading whiskey for furs.

The fort itself is a remarkable recreation, with a lot of time, effort and thought put into the whole place. There is a firearms museum and a Blackfoot gallery, both with fascinating artifacts on display. The “period rooms” surrounding the fort looked like authentic recreations of the period activities of the trading post, made appropriately creepy through the use of mannequins, and audio providing sounds of people walking and muttering among themselves. It was a fascinating experience and a highlight of our day.

Today was a day of school visits for Erin, so I took the time to do some work, meet a friend for lunch (at the Holy Grill restaurant, which got some attention from the Food Network series, Hey, You’ve Gotta Eat Here), and tour Calgary’s LRT. Given the debate that has taken place in Toronto these past few years over the merits of the LRT, Torontonians of all political stripes should head over to Calgary to see what a true LRT has to offer. Because Calgary’s LRT system is, to all intents and purposes, a subway. Outside of the downtown, the LRT cars speed along grade-separated right-of-way, crossing streets with the help of railway crossing gates, clearly given priority over the surrounding automobile traffic. There are elevated sections, there are sections within the median of highways, and there are underground sections.

And yet the Calgary LRT has the flexibility to operate through downtown streets in relatively mixed traffic. They’ve taken over 7th Street as a dedicated transit mall, and the trains have clear priority over the traffic signals, and yet cross street traffic doesn’t appear to be significantly inconvenienced. The downtown section is frequent and free, and works very well as a people-mover, connecting workers with lunchtime appointments. The stations are a lot flashier than streetcar stops, but most aren’t nearly as intensive as a subway stop, and yet the system gets the job done.

Torontonians could certainly benefit from some proper LRTs in operation. Indeed, when the Eglinton Crosstown line opens, they’ll likely improve on what Calgary has to offer, as Toronto’s LRTs will be low-floor. To operate through the downtown on Seventh Street, Calgary’s high-floor LRTs have to line up with sidewalks that have been raised to at least three feet above the roadbed, a potential fall hazard, I’d wager (and one which Calgarians seem to have blithely learned to cope with). The transit mall in Calgary seems to work well, handling many pedestrians, without any detriment to the surrounding businesses (a different experience than what I remember from Ottawa’s Rideau transit mall). It strikes me that this would have been a good example to show for Toronto’s King Street, back when it was proposed to turn that street into a transit mall to free up space for the King Streetcar.

Tomorrow is another travel day, to Saskatoon via Drumheller. Looking forward to what these places have to offer.

Click here for further photos of our trek down into the Lethbridge coulee.

Click here for further photos of my Calgary LRT tour.

(Updated to correct embarrassing typo)

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Mon, Sep
22
2014

Thank You, Lethbridge

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Yesterday’s Word on the Street at Lethbridge went very well. Erin, many other fine authors, were given a whole hour in which to present, which is a little intimidating, but allowed for lengthy readings and Q&A sessions. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything without an energetic audience willing to ask those questions, and we had them in spades. There was a great energy at the festival, from the organizers and volunteers who were clearly enthusiastic, straight down to the teens who showed up at the Teen Reading booth. We were also supported by our fellow authors, including Carrie Mac, Jacqueline Guest, Karen Bass and Morgan Rhodes.

We attended each other’s readings and we headed out for dinner afterwards (joined by Ruth Ohi — that’s us heading to dinner that evening) a good time was had by all. Many thanks to the organizers and the hardworking volunteers at the Lethbridge Word on the Street for making the event so successful, and giving us many pleasant memories of this city.

Festivals are great boost to writers, I think. I have to say that even though I wasn’t there to present, I felt the energy and took it into myself. I became excited about my own writing once again, and that’s a good thing. It’s no wonder why this event is so successful, and growing.

Today is a travel day as we return to Calgary.

We didn’t quite get up at the crack of dawn, but close. I now type this at the boarding gate for Air Canada’ flight to Calgary, departing at 10. Erin’s reading at Word on the Street Lethbridge, and there’s school readings at Calgary on Tuesday. This combined with a research trip to Saskatoon has us hopping around Alberta and Saskatchewan for the week on business.

The grandparents are watching the kids and we miss them dearly already, but I’m excited. Except for Jasper, we kind of breezed through Saskatchewan and Alberta during our trip on the Canadian, two years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing what I missed.

So, to start with, I have to ask: any food recommendations when we’re in Lethbridge, Calgary or Saskatoon? What’s the signature sandwich?

And, it should go without saying, if you’re anywhere near Lethbridge this Sunday, come out and hear Erin read!

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The image above is by West Annex News and is used in accordance with their Creative Commons License.

I wish Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a speedy recovery as he checks into hospital to deal with a possible tumour on his appendix. Given that Rob Ford’s father died of colon cancer, I can imagine that this is the most alarming news possible for the family, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I’ve only ever wished the best for him, personally. When he was dealing with his demons of alcoholism, I only ever wanted him to have a long healthy life in the company of the people he loves. I’ve only once broken my own rules and sworn a blue streak over something Ford did, and I had to be pushed very hard by circumstance. I think he’s been a disaster as the mayor of Toronto, but who am I to say what he deserves as a human being?

I will say that the last four years have been frustrating for me as I watch City Hall’s shenanigans in my old home town. For the first two years of Ford’s term, things were going along the trajectory I predicted in 2010, when Rob Ford positioned himself as Toronto’s version of Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien, elected in 2006. Like O’Brien, Ford was elected in a ‘throw-the-bums-out’ wave, and tried to bully his agenda through city council. And like O’Brien, two years into his mandate, Rob Ford discovered that city council can’t be bullied into submission forever. When council finally rose up, and killed his ill-advised subway plan, it was a good day for democracy, and everything that I expected at the time.

But, of course, history did not stop there. History may rhyme rather than repeat itself, but nobody could have predicted the extreme trajectory Rob Ford’s mayoralty would take, with crack video revelations, being removed from office (and restored on appeal) for breaking municipal conflict-of-interest laws, admissions of alcoholism and drug use, and making the city into the punch line of many late night television talk shows.

This was frustrating for me because Ford was getting bad press for the wrong reasons. His personal demons took centre stage, and while it may be worth asking if any politician can do his or her job with such a circus going on, what got left behind was questions over Ford’s ill-advised policies. If Ford was to be defeated in 2014, or pushed from office before that, the sideshow should not have been the reason why.

Ford’s policies on their own have set back Toronto’s public transportation infrastructure another decade, and it’s been under a decades-long drought to begin with. Ford cut services and raised user fees after promising not to. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation is mired in as much controversy as it was when Ford took office, if not more, and public housing waiting lists are longer than ever. Toronto’s fiscal position is sound, but that’s as much the result of the efforts of the previous administration as it is the current one, and Ford made things less stable by canning the vehicle registration tax.

Then there is the fact that he continues to say things which simply aren’t true, such as his $9 billion subway proposal that in reality costs billions more, and can’t be paid for without significant property tax increases. I’m not calling Rob Ford a liar, since you have to know that what you’re saying is a lie to be a liar. However, he continues to cling to inaccurate claims and information even when the proof is on the table. And that hits me worse than somebody lying.

Have you seen the video of councillor Josh Matlow questioning Mayor Ford regarding his opposition to the Scarborough LRT plan? Ford’s major complaint with LRTs is that they rip up roads and cause congestion, and points again and again to the “St. Clair Disaster” (which is no longer a disaster), but on the Scarborough LRT question he takes his opposition to totally ludicrous levels. The Scarborough LRT would not operate on roads: it would have operated on the same grade-separated right-of-way as the Scarborough RT! There’s no disruption to competing automobile traffic! Could he at least admit he was wrong? No. Talking to Ford on this issue is like talking to a wall. He doesn’t want to change his mind, and he won’t change his mind, even when the facts fundamentally disagree with him. He will fight you, even if you have right on your side.

I’ve called Rob Ford a bully before, and I’m not the first to do so. When I do it, though, I’m not suggesting that Ford is vindictive and malicious, or anything like that. Rather, his response to opposition is what feeds into this characterization. At the February 2012 council meeting when he stared defeat of his subway plans in the face, with council uniting to back the fiscally far more responsible plan to restore some of the Transit City LRT network, he went on a lengthy rant at the other councillors and some of the audience in attendance, lambasting them for standing up for streetcars. He hated streetcars and it was personal; he hated having them in the way of his car. More than that, he fundamentally could not understand how any Torontonian could oppose him on this, why anyone would question his desire to eliminate streetcars from Toronto city streets altogether.

His desire to eliminate streetcars from the streets of Toronto makes this issue personal to me, I admit, but his response to people who think differently than him is what’s most telling, here. Polls show that most Torontonians like the fact that we have streetcars in our streets. The newly debuted models have proven to be wildly popular with Torontonians. Not everybody in this city drives a personal automobile. Many don’t want one. Ford claims that he is a common man, in touch with the desires of all Torontonians. How does he respond to the fact that many Torontonians want to keep the streetcars? He refuses to admit that he’s out of touch. Indeed, he refuses to believe that the people who disagree with him on this issue even exist. What happens when these people show that they exist, and stand ready to oppose his ill-advised policies? He gets angry and shouts at them, because he believes he is always right, and that anybody who disagrees with him is just wrong.

And that is a fundamentally bad quality to have as the mayor of a diverse metropolis such as Toronto. This, not Ford’s personal issues, nor his health, is why Ford has been bad for the city of Toronto. This is the reason why he should be leaving office, everything else is just a distraction.

But this is not the conversation we’re having. And I cannot help but feel that Toronto is worse off because of it.

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