Some comments deserve to be elevated to full-fledged posts. After I posted Three things about Canada, my old J-school pal Martha Muzychka–the first Newfoundlander I ever met way back in 1984–took up the challenge to write about her own backyard. Here’s her excellent list:   

(Instructions: Start a note, cut-and-paste this, replace my answers with your own.)

Three names I go by:

1. The Rock (Newfoundland)
2. The Big Land (Labrador)
3. NL

Three places I have worked:

1. The Haunted Hike
2. Royal St. John’s Regatta
3. Woody Point Literary Festival

Three places I have lived:

1. Devon House Craft Centre
2. Anna Templeton Centre
3. Cabot Tower

Three TV shows I watch:

1. Hatching, Matching and Dispatching
2. This Hour has 22 Minutes
3. Land and Sea

Three places I have been:

1. Gros Morne
2. Happy Valley Goose Bay
3. Eastport

Three people who e-mail me:

1. Danny (Williams)
2. Damhnait (Doyle)
3. Michael (Crummey)

Three of my favorite foods:

1. fish and chips
2. tea buns
3. bread pudding

Three things I would like to do:

1. Stop begging
2. Repeat the gold medal win in curling at the 2010 Winter Games
3. Teach people how to dance a  jig

Three things I am looking forward to:

1. People stop using the term Newf or Newfie to describe the people of the province
2. The 2010 JUNO Awards
3. Maintaining status as a have province!

Ok, Rest of Canada: your turn…and I promise to give your province or city its very own post too… 


I’m going to try to make it a tradition at These Boots to give away a great travel-related prize at least a couple of times a month.

Did somebody say martinis?

Did somebody say martinis?

I already have next week’s contest lined up…and suffice it to say, it involves martinis.

Thanks to Fiona Burrows who wrote about bonding with her dad through hockey to win tickets to see Slap Shot at the Hockey Nights in Film series at the Vancity Theatre on Monday night.

And thanks also to Rahel Bailie who won a random draw for a pair of tickets to one of four performances at the Water’s Edge Festival this weekend.

Thanks for playing and come back soon!

If you love jazz and world music, have I got a prize for you: a pair of tickets to this weekend’s Water’s Edge Music Festival at the Evergreen Cultural Centre on the pretty shores of Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam, BC.

Beginning at 9:30 am on Saturday, March 7 and for 25 non-stop hours, more than 300 performers will strut their musical stuff during 25 events  at seven indoor and outdoor venues. The question isn’t whether to attend, but who to attend to: will you catch R. Murray Schafer’s Music for Wilderness Lake featuring 12 trombonists playing to one another across the lake? Or 2008 National Jazz Award winner Jodi Proznick and her quartet? Grammy-nominated Cuban jazz great Bobby Carcasses? Or maybe the midnight drum circle?

And that’s just for starters…you’ve got to have stamina for this marathon swim in deep musical waters…


Just leave a comment telling me which of the following four shows you’d most like to attend on Saturday, March 7.  I’ll do a random draw for a pair of tickets (valued at $50) tomorrow (Friday, March 6), at 5 pm. Remember to leave contact info! 

Saturday, 3 PM: Vocomotion brings to life music from many cultures and traditions

Saturday, 6 PM: Jodi Proznick Quartet 

Saturday, 8 PM: JUNO-nominated Brad Turner Quartet

Saturday, 10:30 PM: Bobby Carcasses and AFROJAZZ from Cuba

Be quick and good luck!


Quebec knows how to party and you wouldn’t doubt me if you visited during Carnaval, which this year runs from Jan. 30 to Feb.15. This article highlighting the delights of Canada’s original winter festival originally appeared in the North Shore News in 2002.


A white flag at winter

When the late Peter Gzowski suggested Canada needed a national holiday in February, you would think that would have been good enough for the politicians. After all, Gzowski had his finger on the nation’s pulse for decades; the king of CBC Radio knew better than any bureaucrat what was good for the Canadian psyche. But no one listened, and now Gzowski is gone, and dreary February is still short, but not short enough.

Except in Quebec.

Maybe it’s because 96 per cent of the population in Quebec City speaks French that they missed the news that Canada does not have a holiday in February. Or maybe it’s because they’re so cold by February that drinking and dancing and singing and clapping is the only thing they can think to do to prevent freezing to death. Whatever the reason, for 17 days each February for the past 48 years, Quebec City has waved the white flag at winter, surrendering itself to all manner of snowy pleasures.

Bring the family

Quebec’s Carnaval is a family affair, a far cry from the debauched pre-Lenten festivals held in Rio and New Orleans. (Who really wants to bare breasts and buttocks in –20 weather anyway?) It’s so family-friendly, in fact, that the colorful parade is held on two Saturdays, passing once through downtown and once through a residential suburb. It’s one of the two great parades in Canada (the other being Calgary’s Stampede parade in July), with plenty of glitzy floats, marching bands, and of course, the lovable Bonhomme-a cross between the Michelin Man and Pillsbury Doughboy who serves as Carnaval’s mascot.                    

Bonhomme/Courtesy Quebec Carnaval

Bonhomme/Courtesy Quebec Carnaval

Visitors to Carnaval–especially winter wimps from the west coast–are strongly advised to adopt the local uniform: undershirt, turtleneck, fleece jacket, parka, snow pants, thermal socks, thermal boots, scarf, toque, and thermal mitts. (Pee first.) You will look like the Bonhomme (see right), but so will everyone else, and you will absolutely need that much clothing if you hope to enjoy the festivities, most of which are held outdoors.

Even with all those layers, you will quickly come to appreciate the real value of the Quebec two-step, a spontaneous dance performed by young and old alike to keep their toes from falling off.

(It’s an intriguing commentary on French-English relations that the signs along the parade route cautioning against drinking alcohol in cold weather are exclusively in French. Anyone with enough French to read them probably already has the sense to stay sober in the snow; it’s the vacationing English who are more likely to need the warning. Still, hypothermia or no hypothermia, nothing seems to stop either camp from sipping a little Caribou-allegedly once the blood of the animal but now a cloying whiskey-based beverage-from hollow plastic walking sticks sold at corner stores expressly for the purpose.)

A value-priced party

The revelry is valued-priced. A $5 plastic figurine of the Bonhomme, available on every street corner and worn on your coat, gives you access to the city’s three festival sites, and more than 300 performances and activities including puppet shows, story-telling, old-time fiddling, snow rafting (like white-water rafting without the water), ice-fishing, snow-shoeing, and sleigh-riding.

You can even take a lesson in snow-sculpting to gain insight into the technical expertise behind the dozens of giant-sized sculptures lining the historic Plains of Abraham. For 30 years, sculptors from around the globe (even teams from south of the equator) have gathered in Quebec to compete in the International Snow Sculpture Show; the ornate detail of their icy carvings is as much a testimony to their engineering skills as their artistry.

Who knew ice could be so much fun when you’re not trying to drive on it? The vast ice castle, built each year in front of the parliament buildings, erupts with a stunning sound-and-light show every 20 minutes between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The view from the top of the ice luge, behind the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, will take your breath away, as will the quick trip down by toboggan. And the adult-only Icecotheque at the Maurice Night Club, where drinks are served in ice beakers, gives a whole new meaning to disco cool. But the most memorable ice spectacle is the one you won’t find in the official program: the rushing St. Lawrence River, as cold and as thick with ice as a Slurpee from Seven-11.

Cross the St. Lawrence for the best view

For the best view of the churning slush–and perhaps a deeper appreciation for the fortitude of Canada’s early settlers–take the commuter ferry to Levis, just across the river from Quebec City. (The terminal is just steps away from the picturesque shopping district of Rue du Petit-Champlain; the return trip is less than $5 if you don’t get off in Levis.)

On the 10-minute trip over, watch how the fast-moving floes tear apart like ripped fabric; listen to the peculiarly menacing slip and slither of the frigid river. On the trip back, have your camera at the ready: this view of Old Quebec–now a designated UNESCO world heritage site–is particularly dramatic, with the venerable Chateau looming imperiously over the ramparts, like a seigneur surveying his land.

From the ferry dock in the Lower Town, there are two preferred ways to get back up and inside the walled city. Children invariably prefer the shorter route: straight up the hillside courtesy of the Funiculaire–the equivalent of a glass-sided elevator–running vertically between the Quartier Petit-Champlain and the Dufferin terrace, behind the Chateau.

But the longer and more visually rewarding route is along antique alley in the Vieux-Port district: the shops along Sault-au-Matelot and Rue St. Paul will charm anyone with a weakness for old Quebec pine. When the stores begin thinning out, veer left on Sous-le-Cap, the narrowest street on the continent, and follow the quaint cobbled pathway that will lead you back up to the ramparts and within site of Notre-Dame cathedral.

Get lost

The ancient streets make no sense, and it easy, even desirable, to get lost–so dress for the cold. With the right clothing, and a break indoors for lunch and a mid-afternoon café au lait, it’s possible to remain outside for most of the day. Romance (if you’re without children), or fatigue (if kids are in tow), requires at least one trip through town in the snug, fur-lined comfort of a horse-drawn caleche. But mostly, the pleasures of Carnaval–walking, skating, dancing–are best enjoyed with both feet on the ground: no rental car required.

At night, young revelers do their best to sabotage the sleep of weary tourists, blatting incessantly on their long plastic trompettes, the favorite noise-makers at Carnaval. In the twilight moment before sleep descends, it is a sound reminiscent of an irritating summer mosquito.

But if a hovering mosquito often marks the close of a perfect Canadian summer holiday, why shouldn’t its equivalent mark the close of a perfect Canadian winter holiday?

This an excerpt from “Tune in to your next trip,” my story about the power of music to transform our travels. It originally appeared in Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper:

II. Appassionato

If, as the Bard reminds us, all the world’s a stage, then I propose we photo-obsessed wayfarers might do well to lay aside our cameras and pay closer attention to the incidental music that punctuates the scenes and acts of our traveling days.

I am not talking here about the blue-chip performances that require advance tickets and balcony seating and fancy dress. I am speaking rather of those unplanned and unexpected gifts of music that tell us as surely as the food we are eating and the language we are speaking where we have landed on this planet.

When we come back from our travels, we are prepared for the usual questions: “Where did you go? What did you see? What did you do?” And even before you have boarded your return flight, you have likely prepared your stock responses. But how would you begin to answer if someone were to ask: “Tell me—what did you hear?”           

III. Dolce

I collected my first sound postcard when I was 14 years old and trapped in what seemed an interminable family vacation in the suburban barrens of Winnipeg. It was a hot July afternoon, and my younger brother and I, tired of running through my grandmother’s sprinkler, sat on the scorching cement steps leading to the never-used front door, stunned silent by the oppressive humidity.

Inside, my mother and her older sister, my aunt Donna, had claimed the below-ground basement, the only cool place in the little brick-and-stucco tract house. Both accomplished violinists, they enjoyed playing duets whenever they got together. The screen door was open, and my brother and I could hear them tuning up as we meticulously picked the bits of grass off our feet that so annoyed my granny when we tracked them into her obsessively tidy kitchen.

 It was the first time I ever heard Bach’s double violin concerto. We laid back on the front stoop and let the joyous optimism of the first movement wash over us, and indulged, I think, a secret pride that it was our family members making that glorious sound. Some neighborhood kids wandered into the yard and joined us on the steps to listen. Then more came and suddenly, as if lured by the Pied Piper himself, there were a dozen bored and sticky children gathered by the screen to enjoy that wafting musical breeze.

It seemed so risky at the time, but as a group we decided to descend to the basement, where we sat quietly on old couches and chairs to watch the performance. Neither player saw us enter: with their backs to the stairs, they were oblivious to anything but their instruments. I will never forget the look on their faces when the little audience jumped to its feet to applaud the final movement. I have no pictures from that long-ago summer, only the memory of that joyful noise—of family, and friends, and music shared without pretense.

[Read–and hear–the entire Globe & Mail story here.]