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Reflections 2011
Series 29
November 30
North Coast V: Back from Churchill by Rail!


At the end of my last day in Churchill, we had gathered in the station, waiting for departure time at 7:30 PM. The woman came to mind that I’d met at breakfast that morning on the Amazon earlier in the year who had been from somewhere in northern Manitoba (in retrospect, I wish I remembered where) before she moved to Florida. I clearly recall her saying, when she heard of my plans to go to Churchill, “Well, don’t expect much!” But she was wrong. I’d really enjoyed the little town on the tundra, walking along Kelsey Boulevard, staying at the Lazy Bear Lodge, visiting the area of the grain elevators and historic 18C areas, the polar bear jail, and also the tundra buggy tours to see the bears. It was a little poignant leaving as we filed out of the station into the wintry darkness of the platform, interrupted only by a few platform lights, to board the train.


I didn’t realize yet that the train ride to Winnipeg would be one of the more pleasant ones in memory. I learned on Cunard ships that he Irish call it enjoying the craic, or friendly atmosphere, a word derived from, and pronounced like, the English word “crack” as used in its friendly, fun, spontaneous meanings, like “crack a joke” or “wise-crack”; it’s re-spelled in Gaelic as craic. Germans call such an atmosphere gemütlich, and talk of enjoying the Gemütlichkeit at a gathering.


The coach passengers were directed to the front of the train in front of the dining car. Some were through passengers that we sleeping-car passengers would see again later in the dining car, others were locals coming and going. Behind the dining car, as earlier, were the sleepers. I had been pleased to learn earlier that my Room-for-One would conveniently be in the sleeper directly behind the dining car, rather than several back as on the northbound trip, but found out only now why I’d gotten such a good location.


I was determined not to have the same frustration as I’d had northbound about getting reservations for the three meal sittings, and, after I dropped my bag in my room, even though no dinner service was scheduled that first night, I headed directly for the dining car. There, the crew of three were seated at a pair of tables opposite each other, and I made my concern known to the woman, in uniform, who seemed to be the chief dining room steward. She was Tracy, and the chef sitting there all in white was Brad, plus a waiter. I sat down with them, we got to talking, and it was a beginning of the craic on this trip. Tracy said there’d be no reservations at all, because there wouldn’t be three sittings. Actually, there wouldn’t be even one sitting. We could just all amble in sometime reasonably around mealtime and be served. Things were getting better already. I explained about the problem northbound. Tracy named the individual in charge, but diplomatically made no criticism. She did explain that that northbound train indeed had a lot of passengers, including several tour groups, which would have made the situation more complex. Instead, she explained, this trip was very much different. Other than the coach passengers, who come and go, not only were there few sleeping car passengers, but the last three sleepers were empty, and closed off to passengers. Furthermore, my sleeper was only about half full. No wonder I’d gotten a close room! With so few people in the sleepers, and with many of the locals in coach bringing their own food, the dining car had maximum flexibility. I suppose you could say it was like being at home--when you’re hungry, you go into the kitchen to eat something.


But as pleasant as things were to be, there were clouds on the horizon. I’d thought it odd that even sleeping-car passengers have to, exceptionally, purchase meals separately on this train. That sounds like a bit of a downgrading. Then, when I discussed the menu we’d had northbound, Brad, the chef, said that it would be the same one now. Then he pointed out that there used to be a lot more selections and variety. Finally, he told me they’re getting rid of the dining car completely after November 15, planning on replacing it with a microwave-café. Now a café where they heat up packaged sandwiches and pizza is what one has to put up with day trains, such as the Maple Leaf out of New York, but that’s an all-coach train, and you learn to put up with simpler fare. It would be unfortunate if they put that set-up on an overnight train. Churchill has complained that it’s a step down, as have the First Nation communities on the route. The union certainly has complained--Brad is the local rep--as they’ll all lose their jobs. So far, as I look at the VIA website, no change is listed as to dining on this train, so we’ll just have to see what will be on the horizon.


Day Twelve The next day was a complete train day, with three meals, and the following one would be a breakfast-and-lunch day, with a late afternoon arrival in Winnipeg. And it was at that very first breakfast that I met a most interesting traveling companion. The night before, Tracy had mentioned that there was some sort of German diplomat on the train, one that has something to do with tourism, and I told her, fine, since I speak German, I’ll have to get to know him. But it was totally by chance that when I came into the dining car, while several tables were full, there was a table with just one person at it, and Tracy, not necessarily realizing, directed me toward it. This is when I met George, who turned out to be Georg.


Although he speaks perfect English (and French and Spanish--he studied language in Salamanca, Geneva, and elsewhere), I shifted our conversation right to German, which, as a Germanist, I always like to do to get more in-depth in this type of conversation. We spent five meals together over two days talking about everything under the sun. We only moved to English if we joined into an inter-table conversation in the spirit of craic and Gemütlichkeit. Georg is originally from Nürnberg/Nuremberg and studied in Erlangen. We talked about travel, about Germany, about everything. The discussion about Berlin was particularly memorable, where we talked about the Wall, Friedrichstraße, Bernauer Straße, and what was at the time the enclave Steinstücken, a piece of West Berlin surrounded by East Germany that I’d visited both before and after the Wall. We also talked about the beloved Berlin folk artist Heinrich Zille (TSILL.uh), here in a 1922 self-portrait.


[I can’t resist doing an aside on Zille. He portrayed the everyday people of Berlin in the early 20C, and the word “beloved” is not an exaggeration. He was known as Vater Zille / Father Zille, and Pinselheinrich / Paintbrush Henry. He was also called Raffael der Hinterhöfe / Raphael of the Courtyards because of pictures like this. The caption, typically in Berlin dialect, is below, followed by my translations into standard German and English. Zille shows, as social commentary, life in the back courtyards of early 20C Berlin.]

 Mutta, jib doch die zwee Blumtöppe raus. Lieschen sitzt so jerne ins Jrüne!

Mutter, gib doch die zwei Blumentöpfe raus. Lieschen sitzt so gerne im Grünen!

Ma, why don’t you hand out the two flowerpots [to me]. Little Lisa likes it so much sitting outside in the greenery!

Oh, and about that diplomat thing. I found out right at the beginning of that first breakfast that Georg was Dr Georg Witschel, the German Ambassador to Canada, in Ottawa. He, with his wife and daughter, had been visiting Churchill, but his daughter had to get back to school, so she and his wife flew back to Ottawa, while Georg took the train to Winnipeg instead. He had receptions and other official duties to do there, including meeting with the Premier of Manitoba. He was “fellow traveler Georg” while on the train, but as soon as we were in the station in Winnipeg he reverted to business mode, and was already on his mobile phone as we mouthed an Auf Wiedersehen. He was flying soon to Berlin, and emailed me from Potsdamer Platz. I also wrote him later in Ottawa, where he mentioned some official functions he’d just completed. When I wrote to my friend Paul about all this, he wrote back that meeting the German Ambassador is “so Vince”. Maybe so.


While reflecting on the train ride as we ambled slowly along, Georg reflected on a witticism that he applied to this trip. “I don’t want to say the train is slow, but you can jump off the front of the train, go fishing for 20 minutes in the river you’re crossing over, then jump on the last car again.”


I asked him what the tourism connection was, and he pointed out that he’s doing a special project on German immigration over the years to Canada. Museum artifacts are being collected across Canada dealing with German-Canadian life, and this was being coordinated with two museums of emigration in Germany. One, in Bremerhaven, is the Deutsches Auswandererhaus / German House of Emigration. The other, Ballinstadt, affected me more directly. I knew that my maternal grandfather had emigrated from Minsk via Hamburg to New York (2011/5), but never knew details. From Georg and from later reading, I now know about Albert Ballin (ba.LEEN), the director of the Hamburg-America Line (HAPAG), one of the major transporters of European emigrants to North America. In 1901, Ballin built the Auswandererhallen / Emigration Halls in Hamburg on the large Elbe island of Veddel. There were about 30 separate buildings, including sleeping and living pavilions, dining halls, baths, a music pavilion, church, synagog, and medical facilities, as well as a rail connection. This mass accommodation was to provide a secure location for the thousands of emigrants arriving weekly from all over Europe and who were waiting for passage. The stay, including room and board, were all included in the price of the ship ticket. It was Ballin who sent out recruiters to East and Southeast Europe to bring in potential emigrants, which led Hamburg to surpass Bremen in 1891 as the leading port of emigration. The medical facilities “pre-quarantined” emigrants for 14 days to lessen the possibility of their being sent back at the expense of the shipping company.


I am convinced, although without proof, that four years later, my maternal grandfather stayed here in 1905. I have for some time been convinced that it was Hamburg shipping agents who recruited him in Minsk. It might have been in the Halls that the family name was Germanized from Kostenyevich to Kastonowitz. In any case, in 1963 the Emigration Halls were torn down, but in 2007 the museum-city called BallinStadt / BallinCity (click to enlarge) was opened. As Georg says, it should be a future destination of mine.


[Another lasting affect of Ballin was that he is considered the “inventor” of the modern cruise. In 1891, to better make use of underused ships in winter, and in a period when ship travel was meant just for transportation, he arranged the first cruise to the Mediterranean, and later elsewhere. The concept of the cruise defined the journey not just as transport, but as the actual reward, a definition in which I wholeheartedly agree. His competitors sniggered at this six-week experiment, but it was a great success. Three sister ships were added to the program, and in 1899 the Hamburg-America Line commissioned the first purpose-built cruise ship.


Additional information will be of interest: The Hamburg-America Line was comparable to the Cunard Line, and they competed for big ships and transatlantic speed records. Ballin worked as a mediator with both England and Germany before WWI to avert hostilities, to no avail, and he was deeply disillusioned by the outbreak of war. Many of the Hamburg-America Line’s ships were lost or severely damaged during hostilities. Toward the end, as a man of integrity, he was asked to negotiate in Germany’s name with England at the peace talks in 1918. Nevertheless, discouraged at the destruction of his life’s work and fearing further loss of his ships, he committed suicide with sleeping pills on the day the Kaiser abdicated, and two days before the Armistice in 1918. And his fears turned out to be realized, since the company’s flagships, the magnificent triumvirate Imperator, Vaterland, and Bismarck, were turned over as war prizes to Britain and the US. The Imperator (1912) then sailed for Cunard as the Berengaria, the Vaterland (1913) sailed for the United States Lines as the Leviathan, and the Bismarck (1914) sailed for the White Star Line (later joined with Cunard) as the Majestic. Each of these progressively larger ships had been, to Ballin’s delight, the world’s largest passenger ship on launching, and their years of launching are poignant considering the looming outbreak of war in 1914. Each would have meant a tragic personal loss to Ballin had he lived.]


Whether he realized it or not, Georg had a verbal gift for me. Based on our discussions of travel, he had a Goethe quote that fit my travel philosophy, and evidently, that of many others. Now for Germanists and those interested in German culture, a quote from Goethe is the gold standard. Georg quoted it in its short form, and then I found the long form four words longer:

 Man reist ja nicht, um anzukommen.
You don’t travel just to get there.

Man reist ja nicht, um anzukommen, sondern um zu reisen.
You don’t travel just to get there, but to travel getting there.

How perfect. In the last posting I described flying to Santo Domingo like freight--as we all do--because business was pressing. Let’s not kid ourselves, that wasn’t travel, that was transportation to a destination. Here, on the other hand, the destination of Churchill was complimented by leisurely scenic and sociable pleasure travel by train. This is also parallel to the definition of a cruise above, where the journey is not just transport, but the actual reward. I suppose we can say that ideal travel is a quality journey to a quality destination. And if I’m just paraphrasing Goethe, who said it first, it must be right, right?


You can imagine the stimulation of ideas we had in our conversations. This is Georg’s Curriculum Vitae from the Embassy in Ottawa.


To illustrate the friendly atmosphere among passengers on this trip, I’ll come back to pierogis. Once again they were on the menu, and several of us at different tables were planning on ordering them for dinner. One lady from Toronto, who’d grown up in Manitoba, expressed her interest in having the pierogis the way she’d been used to in Manitoba, with bits of bacon. Brad came out of the kitchen, it was discussed, and he modified the meal, so that the pierogis were not only in bacon bits, but fried in bacon fat. Now that’s not the most healthy thing nowadays, but given the improvement over what was already pretty good in the first place, it was worth it.


I realize that not everyone is familiar with train travel, and if they are, not necessarily with the pleasures of overnight travel in a sleeper. Given the familal nature of this trip, it’s worth illustrating now just what a sleeper is all about in North America, Amtrak ones being only slightly different from VIA ones.


This is the floorplan of the sleeping car. My experience has been with the first layout, the Château car, where every car is named after a château (and not a manor). You’ll notice that the Château car differs only in having more doubles (in the center) than singles (on the right). The front of the train, and the dining car, is to the left. After the pair of (green) washrooms (Canada-speak for bathrooms), there are three areas of (yellow) upper and lower berths, six in total, which used to be called Pullman berths, surrounding the excellent (light blue) public shower. The berths are pictured here. Notice the daytime pair of seats facing each other, but also the bulge in the ceiling, which is the upper bed. The lower bed is made from the seats stretching out, with a mattress. At night, there are curtains opening onto the public corridor. The car was so underpopulated returning from Churchill, that there was only one couple (from California that I’d met northbound) using them. Therefore, in the familial atmosphere, they set up housekeeping using all six berths this way. They each used one of the lower berths (disregarding the uppers) next to each other, keeping them made up even during the day, and kept the daytime configuration permanently in the berths next to the shower, calling it their “living room”. It was fun, since they kept on joking that when we walked down the corridor, we were all walking through their “room”. To keep tally then, the berths had room for six, used by two.


In the above diagram, the four “Rooms-for-Two”, or double bedrooms (olive green; D-C-B-A) follow, in the middle of the car. They are spacious, and the pictures are self-explanatory. (Amtrak varies here in that Amtrak doubles have a private shower, cleverly built within the enclosed toilet.) They can, if required, be joined for three or four people. The two couples that came with me from LBL were here, as was the couple that included the “pierogi lady”. The “A” room Georg had to himself. The doubles had room for eight, used by seven. Note how the corridor zig-zags around these larger rooms.


Furthest back, in purple, are the eight “Rooms-for-One”, or singles. I’ve described earlier how the first and third pairs are raised up a step, with beds coming down from the ceiling, while the second and fourth pairs are corridor level, with the “drawer” beds I liked so much--and got both times--that slide under the first pair of rooms. Of the eight, only three were taken, the first two by two ladies, and me in the third, meaning that, as glad as I was to be closer to the dining car on this train, I was physically the passenger on the train furthest back! The other singles were then used by the crew. All in all, this, the only sleeper in use on this trip, had a capacity of 22, occupied by 12, about half. The singles are nicely compact, moreso than the picture shows, since the fourth wall is missing. The missing wall in the picture includes the sliding door right next to the bed, with just enough room to stand at night to raise the bed to use the toilet. During the day, of course, with the bed away there’s a lot more room. Otherwise, with the bed out, it’s very cozy, and you can read or use the laptop, with the window right at your side. We’d had frequent nighttime overcast in Churchill, but that second night on the train, with the lights out, I could see all the stars above the taiga, and particularly, the Big Dipper.


[Cultural expansion: What is known in Canada and the US as the Big Dipper is known as the Plough in the UK and Ireland, and perhaps elsewhere in the anglophone world. It varies, sometimes quite interestingly, in other languages, but in many major ones it’s called the equivalent of the Great Wagon/Cart/Chariot: GE Großer Wagen, FR Grand Chariot, IT & PO Grande Carro, SP Carro Mayor. But when we come ‘round to Russian, it’s Большой Ковш / Bol’shoi Kovsh, and--surprise!--we’re back to calling it the Big Dipper. I found online this excellent picture taken in Berlin this year of the Großer Wagen.]


Finally, this is the dining car. From the sleepers you enter from the left, alongside the kitchen, to the semicircular podium, and then the table area.


Day Thirteen Late in the afternoon we arrived back in Winnipeg. Having been there just over a week earlier, it was sort of like coming home. I followed familiar streets to the same Place Louis Riel Suite Hotel, where the (prepaid, discounted) rates were just a bit higher because it was a weekday.


Day Fourteen I’m an urbanist, and when traveling, along with mountains, forests, and seashores, I particularly like cities and towns, which is why I felt so home in Churchill. To me enjoying an urban area involves walking through it and getting the feel of its neighborhoods and parks, such as, in Winnipeg, the Exchange District (National Historic Site) and the Forks. Although I was aware of two museums in Winnipeg that did interest me, a primary one and a secondary one, I put them off, but now, with another chance in town, they were on my agenda. They were both just north of that famous intersection of Portage and Main, and in the Exchange District.


The secondary one was the Ukrainian Cultural Centre. As I’ve mentioned by discussing pierogis and borscht, things ethnic, in this case Slavic, intrigue me, and the Ukrainians being the second largest cultural group in Manitoba interests me in particular. What I really wanted to see were the pysanky, the Ukrainian Easter eggs. Many countries have the custom of coloring Easter eggs, but the highly decorated ones of Eastern Europe, both Slavic and otherwise, are particularly famous, including Ukrainian pysanky.


The name писанка / pisanka is based on the word “to write”, and the designs are “written” on the egg in hot wax with a stylus. The system works negatively, that is, when dipped in the next color, everything ELSE turns that color, but the area where the wax was retains what was there before, either the surface of the shell, or previously dipped colors. Colors are dipped light to dark, and in the end, the egg is heated and the wax is wiped off. This folk art form is not easy to do. Years ago, Beverly and I bought a kit to do this, but only did it one Easter. We succeeded with just 1-2 simple dyeings, but kept the eggs for many years. (Sometimes the egg itself is blown out via two holes, and then the shell is repaired. Otherwise, the egg is just allowed to dry out, which means that forever, a dried-out yolk bounces around inside, which was the route we took.) This picture shows a mix of traditional (lots of red and black) and modern Ukrainian pysanky.


[An aside: my mother’s family, from Minsk in Belarus, had a simpler tradition that we’ve always followed over the years with a few eggs. Eggs were simply boiled with onionskins until they turned the dull orange-red shown in the picture. That’s all, no decoration. I’m quite surprised to find this shown online, along with this display of Belarusian Easter eggs, although these have been further decorated beyond the basic red color.]


At the Centre I had both bad and good news. The bad was that the museum was temporarily closed due to renovation. The good news was that the gift shop had pysanky by local artists on display for sale, which I could actually pick up and handle, which was even better. They were asking $24 each for some, $29-30 each for others. I didn’t buy any, although my favorite was a simple one, in burnt gold and white.


The primary stop for the day was a block away, the Manitoba Museum, also called the Manotiba Museum of Man and Nature, the full name really indicating better what it’s about. It’s the largest museum in Winnipeg (but not too big), and the largest heritage center, not only in Manitoba, but in the world. I’d gotten two recommendations from friends to see it, and Michelin gives it three stars, so, given the time I had, it was a sure thing.


Not only is the collection superb, it’s organized so well that you can’t help but see the logical sequence of things. You follow a line on the floor from section to section. Two parts of the museum are one flight up, but ramps, with exhibits along the way, lead you there without your taking too much notice. The only museum as nicely organized as this is the Guggenheim in New York, which famously consists of a spiral ramp to the top of the building. Also, all the reading and writing I’d been doing about Manitoba was a prolog to the nine exhibition divisions. After an introductory Orientation Gallery, there was an Earth History Gallery (including the Ancient Seas exhibit), an Arctic/Subarctic Gallery, a Boreal Forest Gallery, the Nonsuch Gallery, the HBC Gallery, a Parklands/Mixed Woods Gallery, a Grasslands Gallery, and an Urban Gallery. It’s as though the museum had been looking over my shoulder and wanted to further illustrate everything I’d been researching. The highlights included the Ancient Seas exhibit (science not being my field, I was surprised I liked it so much), and the Nonsuch and Urban Galleries, which I’d suspected in advance I’d like.


Michelin warned that the introductory exhibit in the Orientation Gallery would impress, and it did. It’s an open (not glassed-in) diorama of a Métis Bison Hunt (or “buffalo”, except that bison are only distantly related to the true European buffalo). It shows life-size figures of a Métis hunter on a horse chasing four wild-eyed bison to illustrate the theme of the interrelationship of humans and the natural environment. In front of a painted rear mural, the figures seemed to jump out at you over the railing. Particularly impressive was the engineering that allowed three legs of the five animals to be up in the air in flight, while the weight of the entire figure was supported by only one leg.


Right nearby it gave the clearest definition of a Métis I’ve seen. They are the mixed-blood offspring of French Canadian fur-trapper fathers and First Nation mothers, usually Cree, which accounts both for their speaking French and being culturally tied to the region. There was also a town map showing just where the Red River Settlement was located from 1812 to 1870. Silly me, I’d wondered if it was up or down the Red River from where Winnipeg was founded--it never had been clear to me from my reading--and it turns out it WAS Winnipeg. The map showed the T-intersection of where the Assiniboine River comes in from the west to join the Red River flowing south to north. The Settlement was divided into parishes, each one straddling one river or the other. They ran west up the Assiniboine the distance of three parishes, north on the Red four parishes, and south on the Red just one parish, which is Saint-Boniface, which today still exists as the French quarter across from downtown. The map also indicated the ethnic concentrations in each area of Scots, French, or Métis.


[I have several panoramas from the museum website available. To view them, you’ll need the latest version of the QuickTime player installed. If you need to get it, download it from here.]


This is a panorama of the Bison Hunt. (Drag the image sideways; Shift zooms in; Control zooms out.) Try to appreciate the drama of the free-standing animals “leaping” towards you. Also, the museum is coordinated so carefully that the light brown area you see to the left of the diorama is the end of the “trail” through the museum, returning to this starting point next to the lobby.


The history then starts from the beginning, so it’s the Earth Science Gallery that follows. Most of what you’d expect is what you get, such as fossils and rocks, but then comes the spectacular exhibit in a side alcove called Ancient Seas, which includes one very special fossil we’ll discuss in a moment.


The Ancient Seas exhibit (this being Canada, everything’s also in French) included three large screens spanning 7.5 m (24.6 ft). They almost abutted each other to form a wide screen, so action could move from one to the next. Actually, the divisions between them made it look even more like you were looking at an underwater scene through three windows of a submarine of some sort. In high-definition computer animation, animation that was so good that you’d think it was real, you saw the highly colorful sea floor, with sea anemones and other creatures that look like plants gently undulating in the current. Passing by, slowly moving from one screen to the next were other familiar creatures, some snails, jellyfish, shellfish, and what seemed to be giant shrimp (I know, that’s an oxymoron).


This is a short part of the animation from just the middle screen (compare with previous still photo). The whole animation must run maybe 8-10 minutes, and it’s so fascinating you just want to keep watching. Notice how the creatures on the floor undulate with the current, and notice the sun filtering down. While a diorama is like a still photo, this is like a video--or the real thing. The only thing is, it isn’t showing something now. It’s the sea floor 450 million years ago. You notice this when some very unusual ancient marine creatures swim or crawl by, whose actual fossils are in the cases in the foreground shown in the photograph of the screens. And it gets better for someone who just got off the train from the north, since this is a scene from when Manitoba was once located on the equator, and shows the tropical climate that Churchill had. The scene itself is based on an ancient rocky shoreline that is still visible (they tell me) just east of Churchill.


This cutting-edge technology, produced by an Australian production company, is the most detailed reconstruction of ancient sea life in the world. The animation has over a hundred separate layers sourced from an equal number of 3D animation files, all requiring compositing without a single error. To ensure accuracy, the curator spent more than a year consulting with the animators from Australia, experts from the Royal Ontario Museum, and universities and museums in Manitoba, Saskatoon, Ohio, Leicester (UK), Uppsala (Sweden), Berlin, and Russia. It was a formidable international effort.


As I watched it, there were a lot of unfamiliar scientific names, which I’ve since been able to look up and understand better. I was also particularly impressed by two ancient creatures, the orthoceras and the trilobite. It’s worth discussing both, as we review both language and science.


The geologic period covered in the animation is the Ordovician (or.duh.VISH.an), which existed between 488 and 444 million years ago (round it to roughly 450). Language study doesn’t help with that word, since it seems to be named after an ancient British tribe in northern Wales, the Ordovices. Bummer. But we’ll be helped in a moment by Greek roots, making it a piece o’ cake.


I’ve found that the easiest way to understand the ancient creatures is to start with their descendants today, and we’ll start with the cephalopods like octopus and squid. Don’t be afraid of that word. We have cephalo- meaning “head” (think of enCEPHALitis, an inflammation of the brain [head]) and -pod, meaning “foot” (a PODiatrist is a foot doctor). So what are cephalopods such as octopus and squid? Nothing but heads with feet (tentacles) attached. Cephalopod says it all.


Cephalopods are in the mollusk (seashell) family, but octopus and squid have evolved to the point that they no longer live in the shells that they once did. (!!!) Think of other (unrelated) shelled creatures taking a walk away from their shells! So let’s move to a distantly related cephalopod that still does live in its shell, the nautilus (Greek for “sailor”; think of “nautical”), the most common form of which is the chambered nautilus. The nautilus lives in a spiral shell that it seems to be trying to get out of. That is to say, as the nautilus grows, it adds on to the front of the shell, and closes off a back part by building a wall, like adding a larger room on the front of your house, but closing off the smaller back room--again and again. The result is a graceful shell, and in this cutaway of the chambered nautilus, you can see the closed-off chambers.


This is a nautilus in its shell, swimming along. Part of the shell is filled with an inert gas similar to air, but with more nitrogen and less oxygen. This makes the animal buoyant, so it isn’t a bottom creature. It has an elongated tube that it can point in different directions, through which it expels water to move by jet propulsion. But nautiluses are indeed celaphopods, which have as many as 90 tentacles in two circles around the mouth, to help them feed. The oldest nautilus fossils date from the general era of the exhibit, and that was where I saw what it looked like for three nautiluses to come swimming across the mid-height area of the screen.


These animals became dominant during the Ordovician period, and actually constituted the main predatory animals, which brings us to the orthoceras. This was the most striking creature in the exhibit, since the orthoceras looks like a long cone lying on its side, like a duncecap, but with tentacles protruding. There is actually one showing in the three-screen picture above. The orthoceras ranged in size from less than a centimeter (0.4 in) to more than 4.3 m (14 ft) long! The one in the animation, a very long one, moved slowly along and then suddenly POUNCED on something on the ground that became its meal. Like the nautilus, it also moved forward in its shell, closing off old chambers. The name is perfect, since it means straight-horned. (Think of ORTHOdonture as a straightening of the teeth, and of a triCERAtops being a three-horned dinosaur.) The slender, elongated, and very straight shell defines it, and it only now occurs to me that, if you could curl up an orthoceras shell into a spiral, like a cornucopia, you’d have a nautilus, right?


The other interesting creature was a bottom-dweller, like a crab or lobster, which brings us to the subject of arthropods. Arthro- means “jointed” (ARTHRitis is an inflammation of the joints), so crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans are defined, not by their body, but by their jointed feet. (To get icky, spiders and insects are also arthropods.) But the difference with the above group is that cephalopods have shells (or lost them), while arthropods, in addition to the jointed appendages (“feet”), have exoskeletons (external skeletons--not shells, even if you talk about a lobster shell), and jointed bodies.


Another contemporary creature close to its ancient forbear in the exhibit is the horseshoe crab, which is not a true crab, despite its name, and has its own classification. It has changed so little over 300 million years, that it’s referred to as a living fossil. Note on the horseshoe crab the smooth top, leggy bottom, and particularly the front-face view of it coming toward you. Not counting the length of the tail, the horseshoe crab is the size of a large soup bowl.


In the exhibit one suddenly saw on the sand coming toward you an arthropod that seemed like a little predator tank scavenging the seabed and leaving a trail in the sand. It was a trilobite, of which today’s horseshoe crab is the closest living relative. The tri-lob-ite (three-lobed-creature) was among the most successful of all early animals, roaming the oceans for over 270 million years, finally disappearing about 250 million years ago. Which brings us to our very special fossil. Among the many fossils displayed related to creatures in the animation, Isotelus rex (on display here is a casting) is the most complete one ever found in the world, and in the Guinness Book of Records. And it was found in Churchill (click to maximize, and read at least “Churchill, Manitoba” in the lower right corner.)


It was discovered on a tidal flat near Churchill in 1999 by four scientists, one from the Royal Ontario Museum, one from the University of Manitoba, and two from the Manitoba Museum. (!!!) It’s 70% longer than the previous find, and is 720 mm (28 in) long, 400 mm (16 in) wide, and 70 mm (3 in) high. It was among the biggest arthropods ever to have lived, and was probably a predator and scavenger that furrowed along to feed. They were industrious, and kept the sea floor clean. The name trilobite refers to three lobes that run the length of the shell. In Isotelus rex, though, they are not well developed and hard to see. Note here the size of Isotelus rex, and the poor distinction of its three lobes.


Let’s take a look in this article on minerals at a Churchill map (scroll down), where the trilobite was found. Note the hatched areas showing an outcropping of bedrock, part of the earth’s mantle. Also note that, when this area was tropical, Churchill, on a peninsula today, was the westernmost island in an archipelago of several islands that would stretch eastward today along Hudson Bay. The last picture at the bottom of this page shows a much smaller trilobite found here in 2000, lying next to a Canadian one-dollar coin, or Loonie (see below) to compare size.


Elsewhere in the Earth Science Gallery I found a surprise. Many I’m sure are aware of the Bering Land Bridge, the prehistoric connection between Siberia and Alaska that is now cut by the Bering Strait. The ancient human population, and many animals, traveled east from Eurasia to the Americas via this route. I now also know that some animals from the Americas went west as well. But, silly me, I always thought that long-gone connection was the only land bridge. But in this Gallery I learned of the one that still exists, and is hiding in plain sight. Any ideas of where it is?


They described it as the Panamanian Land Bridge. Of course! North and South America were, and are, two continents, but at some point in time, movement of tectonic plates caused the mountain ridge from the Rockies to the Andes to form, and between the two, that caused the formation of Central America. Panama is, on reflection, obviously a land bridge that still exists, and in addition, was the only way that people and animals crossing the Bering Land Bridge would have made it to South America.


And there was more still. As it told about the glacial rebound (isostatic rebound) that’s been raising the Churchill area, it explained how it’s also still affecting all of Manitoba and beyond. To explain this, they discussed the former glacial Lake Agassiz, (AGGA.si), a name I’d heard of, but knew little about, which required a bit more reading.


Lake Agassiz was a huge glacial lake (this 19C map is now believed to underestimate its size) in the center of North America. It was larger than all the present Great Lakes combined, and held more fresh water than all the lakes in the world today. Since it had been fed by glacial runoff, it was named after the Swiss glaciologist Louis Agassiz. It came into being about 13,000 years ago and covered much of southern Manitoba, reaching west into Saskatchewan, east into Ontario, and south into what is now the Red River Valley between Minnesota and North Dakota (see map). At its greatest extent, it could have been larger than any lake presently existing in the world, including the (misnamed) Caspian Sea. It drained naturally at various times in different directions, including into the Minnesota River to the Mississippi River; into Lake Superior; into the Mackenzie river to the Arctic Ocean. It also had massive outbreaks, and the last major one occurred about 8400 years ago, where it drained nearly completely and added between one and three meters/yards to the world’s sea level. This final drainage occurred very quickly, in one or two events that could have lasted only a year.


So is Lake Agassiz gone? Not exactly. This is what the remnants of Lake Agassiz look like today. Lying on the floor of the prehistoric Lake Agassiz are not only Lakes Winnipeg, Winnipegosis, Manitoba, and Cedar, but also Lake of the Woods. And the additional point made at the museum is that, with Manitoba continuing to rise due to glacial rebound, the Manitoba lakes will drain completely into Hudson Bay, like water off a dishboard, and could disappear in as little as a few hundred years, which would be the final legacy of Lake Agassiz.


In the climate-related galleries (Arctic/Subarctic, Boreal Forest, Parklands/Mixed Woods, Grasslands) there were two new things of note:

 The Parklands/Mixed Woods Gallery confirmed what I’d read about the extent of the Parklands in the Prairie Provinces, and how they separate the prairies to the south from the boreal forest to the north. But a large globe you could spin around yourself to inspect Parklands locations showed the only three other places they existed: in most of Turkey (Anatolia); along a long, narrow strip in southern Siberia; and in a north-south mushroom shape in west and central China--that’s all, so they’re rather unique. They do not exist at all in southern hemisphere since the biomes they separate don’t exist there.

The Grasslands Gallery pointed out that croplands have largely replaced the original prairie, which still exists only in remnants. It also had an open diorama of a Ukrainian rye farm in 1920’s, with a whole family out harvesting. It points out that the first Ukrainians arrived in Manitoba in 1896. Elsewhere there was a small exhibit of pysanky.

Vying with Ancient Seas for being the most spectacular exhibit was the Nonsuch Gallery. You’ll recall (2011/28) that the Nonsuch was the small ship that sailed in 1668 into Hudson Bay and James Bay. Based on its trip, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was founded two years later, in 1670, and this was the start of European history in central Canada. This replica was commissioned by the HBC for its 300th anniversary in 1970 and presented to the museum in 1973 for its purpose-built Nonsuch Gallery. The replica was built using original-type tools and materials and left, as one is told at the exhibit, from Deptford (DET.fid), as though everyone knows where that is. I later looked it up. It isn’t a seaport, it’s a riverport, and is on the south bank of the Thames, well to the east of London, but just before, and abutting on, Greenwich. The original ship took 118 days for its voyage, and sailed north around Scotland. The ship sailing with it couldn’t make it past Ireland, so the Nonsuch went on alone. There was a volunteer on duty that day, and more interestingly, he was involved in the sailing of the replica. He told me that the replica, with a volunteer crew, sailed around the English Channel area, but didn’t cross the ocean for reasons of safety. It was piggybacked on a ship and brought to North America, where it sailed on the east and west coasts, but never in Hudson Bay.


The uniqueness of the exhibit is that, upon entering the hall, the ship faces you as you walk along a quay. Below the ship is a blue painted floor to simulate the Thames, but upon which you can later walk. As you move on the quay, to your left is the ship, and to your right, a period 17C street. You can walk into shops, and up stairs to upper-level dwellings. The whole gallery, ship and town, is therefore a period piece. Upon boarding the ship one is shocked to learn how small it was. It held just 12 people, four officers and eight men. That’s incredibly tiny given the distance the original one went. You can peek down into the hold where the men slept, and enter the tiny officers’ cabin with cramped sleeping facilities. When you finally walk down onto the “water”, you’re at a level where you can really see the tiny length from below. Immediately adjoining is the HBC Gallery, where the company’s historical collection of artifacts is housed.


This visual tour of the Nonsuch Gallery is inadequate to show the petite length of the ship. It does open showing both the width of the ship, and visitors standing below “on the water”. To the right, the entire length of two-story shops (look up) is visitable. As a supplement, I’ll include this YouTube video of a curator talking about the ship. You may or may not want to hear the whole story again, but at least look over her shoulder at about 0:12, where you can eke out a view of the petite length of the ship.


The final stop is the Urban Gallery, which shows a street in Winnipeg in 1920. One walks on the wooden boardwalks of the era, and stops in commercial establishments both at ground level and up one flight (much like in the Deptford exhibit). At the end is a petite version of a cinema of the era, with perhaps 4-5 rows of seats on both sides of an aisle. I was alone, and walked in on the last part of a Charlie Chaplin short. When it was over, I saw the buttons where there was a choice of three Chaplin films and two Buster Keaton films, so I started up a Keaton film for a few laughs. What a clever way to end both the Urban Gallery and the entire tour.


This virtual tour of the Urban Gallery is quite good. Note at the beginning on the All Peoples Mission the name repeated in nine other languages, necessary at that time of immigration.


A final illustration is another YouTube video, this one of the entire Manitoba Museum. You might want to mute the “Happy Days” sound track, but it does show that at least another visitor was pleased with the exhibits. You might also want to pause it more frequently than I suggest:

 0:02 - Bison hunt; 0:03 view with Métis rider

0:26 - Nonsuch-compare size to visitor; 0:27 Deptford pier, street, two-storey houses

0:47 - Diorama of Ukrainian family harvesting

0:55 - Winnipeg 1920 street, two-storey houses; Chaplin

After a great museum day I had dinner and spent several hours writing back in the lobby of the hotel after I picked up my bag, since it was a late departure of the Canadian at 11:30 PM. I then walked over to the station, and sat in their Panorama Lounge for a few more hours. When I got there, I was the second person to plug in a laptop, but eventually there was a “community” of some 8-10. VIA did put out hot beverages and packaged cookies, and it was a pleasant wait until we boarded at about 10:30. Most of the people in the sleepers however, had been on from earlier, so we were in the minority.


Day Fifteen The next day was a full day on the train, the only full day, since we left Winnipeg at such a late hour and would arrive in Toronto the following day in the morning. My Room-for-One again had the ironing-board-type fold-down bed, and was just as cozy to work in, although I did spend time in the Park Car at the very end of the train (a bit of a hike). In the illustration, enter with me from the right, passing some double bedrooms, to where there’s the bar area (that few use), followed by the semicircular Bullet Lounge at the end of the train, which is usually busy and has bar service. The staircase to the right leads up to the Dome, raised above the sunken bar, for viewing along the roof of the train. Other lounge cars in the long train also have Domes. Somehow the uniqueness of the Dome wears thin quickly for me, and I enjoy the Bullet Lounge much more, for viewing, writing (I can plug in), conversation, coffee, and pastries.


Day Sixteen We were in Toronto by 9:30, and it was the same short walk in the autumn chill a couple of blocks east from Union Station to the Novotel I’d stayed in the first time, and the whole experience had again a “coming home” feeling. Fortunately I was able to get a room right away, so I didn’t have to check my bag, and could settle in. After a while, I set out for my last day of touring.


Over a number of visits to Toronto, with one exception, I’d seen everything I’d wanted to, including the CN Tower on the waterfront near the station, the observation and communications tower that’s become iconic for the city, and which is the most common visitor destination. This is the view from the CN Tower (click to enlarge). Look right (eastward) and, from the bottom up are the train tracks with Union Station (green roof) to their left, followed by a wedge-shaped building. To its left is The Esplanade, and the white-roofed building behind the wedge is the Novotel. When I say I like staying downtown, I really mean downtown! The blocks just beyond, further east, are the Old Town of York (Old Toronto), that I’d explored on the trip north (2011/27). On the picture, now look sharply to the left, which is the northward view. Follow northward the first major street to the left of the Tower, Spadina Avenue, to where, in the hazy distance, you see a green ridge running east-west. This is the exception I mentioned, the location I hadn’t visited yet which is my goal for the day, Davenport Ridge, with Casa Loma atop it, the second most common visitor destination. Spadina Avenue reaches the ridge in the low-rise neighborhood called The Annex. We are here in downtown and this area is in midtown, so we need the Toronto subway.


On the northbound trip I’d checked out the subway and how it worked. For the most part, you by multiple-trip discounted tickets, but for single trips you need cash, so I had to make sure I’d have some change left on this last day in Canada. Canadian currency, very close in value to US currency, but always varying slightly, has always been a pleasure. The banknotes, which now start with $5, are of different colors, and are easily recognizable. In the past, there were also $1 and $2 notes, now replaced by coins, and it’s always been a pleasure to see how normal the $2 note or coin has been, contrary to US usage. Change for $5 is quite normally two twos and a one, which startles those from the US not used to it. Both of these newer coins were not only readily accepted by the public, they have become iconic.


In 1987, the $1 note was replaced by a coin which has Queen Elizabeth on the front (obverse) and a picture of the common loon, now officially known as the Great Northern Loon on the reverse. Loons, which are duck-sized, are called divers in the UK and Ireland. They are the provincial bird of Ontario and the state bird of Minnesota, but otherwise have no official status. The use of the loon was by chance. The coin was originally meant to have a picture of a fur-trading “voyageur”, similar to a previous $1 coin, the Voyageur Dollar, but the master dies for the new dollar were lost in transit by the courier service while en route to the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg! To avoid possible counterfeiting, a new design was chosen, the loon, which is common and well-known in Canada. The coin is gold-colored, and is made of bronze-electroplated nickel. It’s not really round, but eleven-sided, and is 26.5 mm (1.04 in) across. It’s comparable in size in value to US silver dollars, and British 50-pence pieces.


But it’s the name that the coin took that makes it so distinctive. Anglophone Canadians immediately began referring to it as the Loonie, to distinguish it from the dollar note when both were still in circulation, and the name stuck, as the slang name for Canadian currency in general, often used in media references. In French, it’s called the huard, pronounced ÜAR, since that’s the word for “loon”; it’s just not as cute.


Then in 1996 the two-dollar coin replaced that note as well. It, too, has Queen Elizabeth on the obverse, but on the reverse, a polar bear in early summer on an ice floe, perhaps near Churchill. Note that the colors in these pictures are misleading. The coin is round and bi-metallic, mostly copper in the center and mostly nickel on the outer ring, giving it a gold-surrounded-by-silver look. At 28 mm (1.10 in), it’s just slightly wider than the Loonie, so it feels different in the hand.


This coin immediately got the nickname Toonie, (two + Loonie) by anglophones, while francophones call it a polaire, again, not quite so cute. But there were other contenders in English for the name. One was Bearie, an analogy to Loonie; clever was Doubloonie, both a combination of double + Loonie, and a reference to the historic Spanish dubloon coin; mischievous was Moonie, since it showed “the Queen with a bear behind”.


Both the words Loonie and Toonie have become so widely recognized and accepted that in 2006, the Royal Canadian Mint secured the rights to both words, this despite the fact that Loonie and Toonie together make a complete reference to the American Looney Tunes cartoons.


Well, coins in hand, we’re ready for the Toronto subway. Not wanting a discounted, but multiple-trip ticket at the machines, I went past the booth agent with the old-fashioned glass coin box in front of him. While other single-fare payers dropped in both a Toonie and a Loonie, I got the senior rate and deposited just a Toonie.


The system dates from 1954 and was Canada’s first completed subway system, which is actually both subway and elevated. It’s now Canada’s largest rapid transit rail network and the second busiest in daily ridership, after the Montréal Metro. It consists of four lines, with plans for expansion of most routes. The short Scarborough RT in blue is actually more similar to a people mover.


The main quirk to my mind of the Toronto subway--and streetcars, of which there are quite a number--is that old bugaboo, gauge. The subway is built to a broad gauge, and not any common one at that. While standard gauge is 1435 mm (4 ft 8 1/2 in), Toronto’s broad gauge is the unusual and unique 1495 mm (4 ft 10 7/8 in), which is 60 mm (2 3/8 in) wider. The reason seems to go back to the original laying of streetcar tracks in the 19C. At the time, the tracks were also meant to do double duty by assisting in the smooth pulling of wagons before there were paved roads, and these wagons were of this different gauge. When the subway was first planned, one possibility was to run streetcars underground in tunnels (like Boston’s Green Line [2011/19])--which apparently never happened--and so the subway was built to this unusual gauge. The gauge has remained due to the immense cost of converting track, platforms, and rolling stock, and there’s no real benefit of doing so, anyway, beyond having to have rolling stock custom-built to this size, as standard equipment cannot be used for streetcars or subway.


But there’s one more problem. The above-mentioned people mover, the Scarborough RT line in blue, is built to standard gauge, which makes it impossible for it to have any connection to other lines, so a transfer is necessary. Also, while basic servicing of vehicles can be done on-site, if any major servicing is required, those vehicles have to be placed on a truck and carried through city streets to the regular subway maintenance yard. Gauge always remains a problem, although there is talk of replacing the people mover eventually with a subway extension in the Toronto gauge.


I paid my Toonie at the Union subway station at Union Station and went north on the west branch of the yellow line eight stops to Dupont, where it crosses Spadina, close to my destination. I was surprised and delighted to find what I saw. First, it turns out that the Dupont station is particularly known for its art and architecture, such as this floral mosaic made with thousands of pieces of glass embedded in the platform wall. The floral theme is continued throughout.


The station is also unique in its motif of rounded surfaces and finishes, often orange in color, giving the feel of an underground cavern. Benches are also rounded and tiled, and on leaving up the escalator, you find overhead that Dupont station has two rather unique glass-domed entrances, one on Dupont and one on Spadina, that continue the curved, orange theme. It was all a pleasant, unexpected surprise.


But before I could continue, the charm of the neighborhood struck me. I later found that Dupont is the northern extent of the neighborhood called The Annex, which runs three long blocks north-south and about a dozen short blocks east-west. There are Victorian and Edwardian houses dating from the turn of the 20C, often of brick, in the Richardson Romanesque style typified by large, round arches. I did not have enough time to walk around, but could see some impressive houses right down Spadina while standing at the subway “bubble” exit. I now read that many of the styles are typically Torontonian, including these bay-and-gable houses.


I only needed to walk two blocks north on Spadina, and under a rail line, to come to Davenport Road, running east-west under the escarpment known as Davenport Ridge. Because the escarpment was there, centuries ago early First Nations people developed a trail at its foot to portage canoes, and that became Davenport Road. The rail line is located where it is to avoid the escarpment. The two-block long neighborhood running some distance east-west along the tracks from Dupont to Davenport Road is also called Davenport, and once was a village with a passenger station on this rail line. So what is an escarpment? An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff separating two relatively level areas. It’s not really a hill, just an abrupt change in levels. And this escarpment has a very particular history, which is why I wanted to see it. It was part of the north shore of Lake Iroquois.


We discussed prehistoric glacial Lake Iroquois in 2010/25, but to recap, it existed 13,000 years ago, like Lake Agassiz above, just south of the ice sheet. Because of the ice, Lake Iroquois drained to the southeast and into the Mohawk River, then into the Hudson River. Also, in the southwest, the Niagara River flowed north into it from Lake Erie. With the melting of the ice, the lake started to drain to the northeast down the Saint Lawrence River, cutting off the previous exit point and leaving the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers on their own. The drop in its depth of about 30m (100 ft) also caused the Niagara River to fall into it rather than flow, which was the origin of Niagara Falls, which has since cut its way south, forming Niagara Gorge. The remnant of Lake Iroquois is low-level Lake Ontario, which, large as it is, is like the water left at the bottom of an otherwise drained bathtub.


In the earlier discussion, I’ve since corrected where I mistakenly identified the spectacular Niagara Escarpment in the area of Niagara Gorge as part of the southern shoreline of Lake Iroquois, which I now find is a common error. As the above map also shows, in New York State, Ridge Road (Map by TwinsMetsFan), part of State Route 104, runs east-west for 195.5 km (121.5 mi) through four counties along the ridge marking the old southern shoreline. The northern shoreline is discernable in two areas in Toronto. 14 km (8.7 mi) east of Union Station are the Scarborough Bluffs (Photo by Swatisgood), which are right on Lake Ontario. The Bluffs, at 65m (213 ft), are higher than the 23m (75 ft) or so of Davenport Ridge, where I was standing, which is about 2 km inland and forms the steepest bluffs in Toronto.


Traffic on Spadina has to drive in a C to continue, turning left on Davenport Road for a couple of blocks before it can scale the escarpment and return to the upper level of Spadina, but I had the Baldwin Steps (Photo by SimonP) straight ahead to get me to the top. Named after a local landowning family and maintained by the City of Toronto, they are themselves a local landmark. I was glad to see that there were metal plaques at the bottom and top explaining the escarpment, but I wonder if the joggers running up and down the steps ever read them. Turning around at the top of the stairs reveals a handsome view of Toronto below, down past Davenport and The Annex to the tall buildings downtown, including the CN Tower, and with Lake Ontario clearly visible beyond. Yet at the time of lake Iroquois, all of present-day Toronto up to the top of the Baldwin Steps would have been under water. (I have a bit of video of the view in connection shortly with Casa Loma.)


The Baldwin Steps continue on flat land for one block as parkland, beautiful with fall colors, as were the Steps, and rejoin Spadina. It’s understandable that, after the turn of the 20C, wealthy people wanted to build houses on Davenport Ridge for the view, and two of them are right here; to the right is the museum known as Spadina House, but on the left is Toronto’s castle, the incredible Gothic Revival Casa Loma. This first view of Casa Loma shows how it rambles. We’re looking at the Scottish Tower, which is more massive than anything that could have been built in medieval times, and exists in this size because of a 20C steel framework (Check out the uppermost windows for later). Also notable is the low-level white conservatory, full of plants and flowers. But I’m showing the picture right now because of the wall in the foreground, which separates Casa Loma from the short park leading from the Baldwin Steps. In other words, this is the first view one gets of Casa Loma after climbing the stairs.


Because of that view, I’m going to jump ahead before we talk about Casa Loma. On the self-guided tour, one stop involves climbing the Scottish Tower if you want to. Of course I did, following flights of wooden stairs leading to metal circular stairs to more wooden staircases to the top, for a huffing and puffing arrival at that uppermost level of windows. This video shows the interior of the top of the Scottish Tower, along with the view of Toronto from those windows. Mentally subtract the height of the tower from the view of downtown, and you’ll get an idea of the height of the escarpment.

 1:09 - View northeast with Spadina House in white, and the trees of the Baldwin Steps walkway between the two buildings. The white car at the left is on upper Spadina, starting the curve to go down to lower Spadina.

1:26 - View southeast; best to judge the height of the escarpment (plus tower). Picture Toronto under water.

1:38 - View south down lower Spadina through Davenport, the rail line, and The Annex to Downtown with the CN Tower. This view is the opposite of the earlier one toward here from there. My view wasn’t so hazy, so I could very clearly see Lake Ontario behind Downtown. Still, you can judge how the lake has retreated from the foot of the escarpment over 13,000 years.

Now beyond the view and the Scottish Tower, what’s Casa Loma all about? Some people may just appreciate it for itself, and skim over the tragic downfall that’s part of its story, but I see it as a yin-yang situation, where both aspects bear equal weight and compliment each other: the yang of aggressive growth, spectacle, beauty, and hope, and the yin of downfall, loss, decline, and despair.


[I just checked, and found I had my yin and yang backwards (since corrected), so here’s what I found. True, yin and yang in Asian philosophy involve opposites being interconnected and complementary, existing only in relation to each other, such as light and dark. The good fortune that built Casa Loma illustrates an upswing, and the later bad fortune illustrates a downswing. So far my above example is accurate. But it’s yang that represents the light side, such as the south slope of a mountain or north bank of a river. Yin represents the dark side, such as a north slope or south bank. Some town names in China reflect this: Luoyang is on the north (sunny) bank of the Luo River and Huayin is on the south (shaded) slope of Hua Mountain. And of all possible opposites, it’s specifically this light-dark example that’s used in the yin-yang symbol known in both East and West. Yang is the (sunny) white area with black dot and yin is the (shaded) black area with a white dot. (I’m guessing that the opposite dots are another sign of interconnection.) The yin and yang are also in motion, as the sun moves and what was dark becomes light and vice versa. Therefore, yang is associated with the positive, the active, and the aggressive, while yin is associated with the negative, the passive, and the yielding, so my corrected example above is now accurate.]


To know the yang and yin of Casa Loma you have to know the yang and yin of Major-General Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, who built it. He was a prominent Canadian financier, industrialist, and military man who had a great rise and a great fall.


The yang is his rise. He was ambitious, and a business visionary, where he had the Midas touch. He left college at 17 to join the family business and by 23 he was a full partner in his father’s brokerage firm. He founded the Toronto Electric Light Company in 1883 with a monopoly to light Toronto’s streets. He invested heavily in the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the Northwest Land Company, and both flourished by serving a flood of immigrants going west. By 1901 he was chairman of 21 companies with interests in mining, insurance, land, and electricity. In 1902 he and his partners got the rights to build the first Canadian hydroelectric generating plant at Niagara Falls. He was knighted in 1905 for his military service. What could possibly go wrong?


Then, at the height of his rise, in 1911, at age 52, with fortune of $17 million, he decided to build Casa Loma, a name given to the property by its previous owner. It translates best from Spanish as Hill House, although you will also see a clumsy rendering like House (on the) Hill. He was a romantic, and wanted it to look like a medieval castle. Construction, using 300 workers, and costing $3.5 million, took three years, to 1914, when he and his wife moved in, even though it wasn’t fully completed. He used the best materials, such as marble and fine woods, he had the best craftsmen carving paneled walls, he filled it with artwork from Canada and around world. The most extreme indication to me of his building style was that his prize horses had stalls built of mahogany. He and Lady Mary were also philanthropists, supporting several charities, as well as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.


The yin is then his fall. His extraordinarily good luck couldn’t last. To finance expansion of his firm, he went deeper into debt and got into financial trouble. His one sure source of income was the monopoly on street lighting, but that vanished when politics decided that street lighting should be a public enterprise. He made an effort in land speculation on Davenport Ridge, since he hoped wealthy Torontonians would rush to buy homes around his castle. But it was 1914, and war broke out. Not only did construction on Casa Loma stop, but Canadians put their money into war bonds, not new homes. Then the Province of Ontario expropriated his electrical power generating business at Niagara Falls, and his aircraft manufacturing business was taken over as part of the war effort. After the war, the economy went down, his firm went into bankruptcy, his stock was worthless and his business debts were out of control. But the scales were tipped, as he always claimed, by the city’s tax assessors. During the economic downturn after the war, the City of Toronto raised Casa Loma’s yearly property tax from $600 to $1000--PER MONTH!--a twenty-fold increase. He then had to make the heartbreaking decision to auction off his possessions at a fraction of their value--$1.5 million in art and furnishings brought in only $250,000, or about 17%--and abandon his castle. On the audio tour is pointed out a favorite bedroom lamp as one of the few items he took with him when he left, which has since been reacquired. He’d enjoyed Casa Loma for less than ten years, leaving in 1923. They moved to their farm in 1924, and Lady Pellatt, who had been in poor health, died within a year of their leaving, at age 67. For his spirit of philanthropy and 50 years of military service, he was honored in 1926 with a parade of 500 men and three planes flying overhead. When he died in 1939 at 80, thousands lined the streets to witness his funeral procession.


Casa Loma sat vacant for a few years until it was opened as a luxury hotel in 1927. A number of areas had never been completed, such as the entire top floor (now a military museum), three bowling alleys in the basement (the space today is apparently the gift shop and café) and a swimming pool in the basement under the conservatory, (the pool one visits today is still just a hollow shell), but the hotel people invested money to complete show areas such as the Great Hall (thank goodness) and Billiard Room. Two large wings with guest rooms were never built, though, and two years later, with the market crash in 1929, the hotel closed.


However, during those few hotel years, Casa Loma was also a popular nightspot. The orchestra known then as the Orange Blossoms was booked to play for eight months at Casa Loma in 1927-1928. Shortly thereafter, they went on tour of North America with their big band sound, adopting the new name of Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, which was popular for many years.


Then, during the Depression, Casa Loma sat vacant until 1933, when the City of Toronto seized it for $27,303 in back taxes, so it was that increase in its real estate assessment that finally did it in and brought it to municipal ownership. It was in an extremely run-down condition and seemed to be a white elephant. It was suggested to make it into a high school, a museum, an art gallery, a war veterans’ convalescence home. But nothing was feasible, and the city considered the possibility of demolition. (!!!) Then, in 1936, the Kiwanis Club of Toronto suggested they operate it as a tourist attraction, and, after the Club refurbished it, it opened as such in 1937. They still operate it, under the name Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma, although the City of Toronto remains sole owner.


Sir Henry was invited to the opening reception as guest of honor. A picture in the Great Hall shows him signing the guest book. He claimed he was glad people were getting to enjoy the house, but his face has a look of poignancy. By that time, he had been living in several locations around Toronto. His final residence, when he was virtually penniless, was in the suburban home of his former chauffeur. This picture shows Sir Henry Pellatt in later years.


It is worth considering how, in addition to other financial misfortunes, various levels of government were complicit in his downfall, through confiscation of properties or an exploding property assessment. It’s also worth comparing him with Albert Ballin above as to the effects of WWI on respected, prominent citizens.


I continue to feel you can only really enjoy the beauty of Casa Loma (yang) by understanding both his and its hard times (yin). But in any case, let’s consider the features of the building. It’s a Neo-Gothic sandstone castle consisting of 98 rooms. As such, Casa Loma is the largest private residence ever built in Canada. It actually has two towers, the Scottish Tower, and on the west side, the Norman Tower. It has secret passageways and staircases, most notably in his study, where there are secret doors on both sides of the fireplace, one leading downstairs to the wine cellar and one upstairs to the bedrooms, the tour utilizing the latter one. The Great Hall has a 22m (70 ft) ceiling, and upper corridors and rooms have views looking down into it.


He wanted the best, the newest, the largest, the most. At a time when there were maybe 20 telephones in all of the rest of Toronto, he had 52, many built into wall niches that are still visible, as are some period phones. He installed the best in bathroom technology, including a stall shower that has multiple side body sprays. He installed an elevator, rare anywhere at the time, and unheard of in a private home. He had a central vacuuming system. There are two vertical passages for organ pipes. There is a kitchen oven large enough to cook an ox. The floor of the conservatory is made of Carrara marble.


There are four levels, three above ground and a basement. The property continues on the north side of Austin Terrace, where there are several outbuildings. He’d asked the City to close the road so that he could have direct access, but they refused, so he built a 244 m (800 ft) tunnel from the basement UNDER the road to the potting shed, period garage, and stables, all of which are part of the self-guided audio tour.


Underneath the round Norman Tower are two rooms of particular interest. Upstairs is the Round Room, a sitting room, and beneath it on the main level is the Oak Room, a drawing room. The Round Room really is circular, and every window, every door, every bit of molding, all custom-made, can be seen as being curved to fit in. Click to enlarge, to inspect the custom ceiling designs. Below it is the Oak Room, where the circle is continued only as the arc of the window alcove. The oak panels took artisans three years to carve; click to enlarge to inspect the carving detail, and the ceiling.


Also on the second level are the bedrooms. As was the style, Sir Henry’s bedroom, which has a balcony looking down on the Great Hall, is separate from Lady Mary’s suite. Click to enlarge to inspect the ceiling plasterwork. There were also several plush guest suites, including the Windsor Room, where he hoped, in vain, that royalty could stay if they ever visited.


In addition to the above still pictures, we have some videos. This one is a narrative on Casa Loma:

 0:14 - Round Norman Tower in center, Scottish Tower on right
0:28 - Two secret passageways from his office
0:51 - Front entrance (faces north, away from city) with porte-cochère under flag
1:04 - Great Hall, three stories high; his bedroom balcony is upper center
1:06 - View from his balcony; Wurlitzer organ at window (pink)
1:08 - Main downstairs hallway called “Peacock Alley”
The narrative explains the rest quite well.

This video has a nice musical accompaniment, the Waltz of the Flowers. The video is on YouTube, but the Casa Loma website also links to it:

 0:09 - Conservatory exterior (white)
0:27 - Conservatory interior, often with many more plants than this
1:07 - Great Hall with bedroom balcony
1:10 - Wurlitzer organ
1:50 - Round Room
2:07 - Mahogany stalls in stable, Spanish tiles
2:50 - Main entrance under porte-cochère

You’ve probably had enough, but this last one is a nicely done walkthrough. You can now identify by yourself much of what you see, but there are a few new items--and you can always cut ahead.

 2:55 - Early 20C cutting-edge bathroom plumbing technology
3:03 - Unique for its time, custom-built shower with multiple body sprays on the side, each separately adjustable by its own valve
3:25 - Circular stairs to Scottish Tower

By chance, I came across on YouTube some recordings of the Casa Loma Orchestra. When they played in the hotel in the late twenties, they were still the Orange Blossoms, but right after they left it, they adopted the name of the hotel. They were active from 1927 to 1963, were one of the top North American swing bands, and were an early pacesetter in the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s. Other, more familiar recordings are available, but one of their hits, in 1930, was the “Casa Loma Stomp”, and because of the name, that’s the one I’m linking to. It’s an interesting addition to the history of the building.


Day Seventeen It was the usual short walk back to Union Station to board Amtrak’s Maple Leaf to New York. This time we circled the western end of Lake Ontario during the day, with nice views. We stopped in Niagara Falls ON to change crews, and then crossed Niagara Gorge. Again the road bridge just downstream (south) blocked any real view of the Falls beyond some spray, but the view north in the bright sun was spectacular, rapids way below the bridge coursing through the Gorge. The border crossing between the twin cities each named Niagara Falls has to be the most attractive border crossing in the world. Maybe some obscure border crossing on a mountain pass somewhere might equal it, but none will surpass it, and this one is much more easily visited.


In Niagara Falls NY we backed in to a dead-end siding next to the station that the conductor told me was called a house track, and awaited the border formalities. We’d been told we wouldn’t have to get off the train, but that the inspectors would come on board, and perhaps then lead some problem cases offtrain for further review. Two groups of three inspectors worked from either end and asked the usual inane questions and collected the filled-in forms. Then the group of inspectors left the train with about a half-dozen hapless passengers trailing them. The sight just bothered me, and reminded me of WWII movies of people being escorted away by uniformed officials, never to be seen again. These did all return in due course, but the event left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when I realized that drivers crossing the adjacent road bridge filled out no forms, and just handed over their passports out the window before driving away.


Approaching Buffalo, we could see the Peace Bridge connecting to Fort Erie ON and crossing the beginning of the Niagara River. When driving, it’s the best way to drive up to the Falls. The conductor announced that we should free up seats next to us, since we’d have a lot of passengers across New York State from Buffalo to Albany. It was worth it being a little more crowded knowing that more people were finally traveling by train. In Utica a college kid sat next to me while I typed away on the laptop. After a while, he broke the ice by asking if I was a writer. I paused to think. I don’t usually characterize the website postings that way, but I suppose that’s the case. He was a freshman returning home to the Albany area for the weekend, had left his car at school, and it was the first time he’d ever been on the train. Progress does come slowly. After Albany, the Maple Leaf continued in the dark down the Hudson Valley to New York.


Epilog   I don’t usually use stereotypes, but Canada has such a squeaky-clean image, maybe a little teasing won’t do any harm. It involves the word “Eh?” that “all Canadians” supposedly overuse. We need to be fair. “Eh?” is used by all English speakers to ask an end question, equivalent to “Right?” or “Isn’t it?”. Any one might say “That was a great show, eh?” But still it’s rare. Actually, with most Canadians I’ve spoken to, it’s just as rare. But then there was a handful of people on this trip, eh? And these people would overuse it, eh? After a while you couldn’t help but smile, eh? You get the picture, eh? Which leads to this story, eh?

 Do you know how Canada got its name? They asked a Canadian to draw three Scrabble tiles from a pile, and he drew a C, an N, and a D. As he did, he said:

C, eh? N, eh? D, eh? So it’ll be Canada then, eh?

Terrible, eh?

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