Archive for the ‘6 Things You Didn’t Know’ Category

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Alberta

February 9, 2009

Culture diverse as it can be.
This is the land of opportunity.
Welcoming friends, night and day.
That’s the way I pray Alberta stays.

Alberta (Official Provincial Song)

Today is Part III of our lovely series of Canadian provincial information posts.  You can learn six things about Southern Ontario or the GTA by clicking on the links.

My good friend Kern is an Albertan through and through.  He doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, or work in the oil industry, but he’s spent more days at Drumheller than any young person should, and eats enough free Stampede breakfasts to feed a small country.  Kern grew up in Calgary and has returned there after 7 years in Ontario and BC.  He’s an earth scientist by trade, and a lover or fighter planes, dinosaurs, and yurts in his spare time.  Watch out ladies he’s also single and quite the catch. Without further ado, Six Things You Didn’t Know About Alberta!

Howdy! My name is Kern and I’m a buddy of Pete’s, as well as a proud Albertan. Pete’s asked me to write a guestblog regarding 6 things you didn’t know about Alberta. I’m glad he did, as during my periods of residence in other provinces, I have found a surprising lack of knowledge about Alberta even from fellow Canadians. So, I’m going to use this opportunity as an excuse to clear a few things up about both Alberta and Albertans in general, in addition to revealing other interesting tidbits about this wonderful province. So, here goes:

Not all of us are cowboys!
Believe it or not, not all of us subscribe to the cowboy culture that our province tries to promote so rabidly. Yes, I’ve gone to the Calgary Stampede a number of times but I’ve only limited my visits to the fairway rather than the cowboy-themed events that the stampede is known for. Nor do all Albertans wear skin-tight jeans and cowboy hats, or at least not in the big cities (I can’t speak for Okotoks or Cochrane…). People who dress like that are liable to be ridiculed, same as anywhere else in Canada. And, speaking of big cities…

Yes, we really do have BIG cities!!
This is plainly obvious to any Albertan, who are aware of the size of our two largest cities:  Calgary (population 1.16 million) and Edmonton (population 1.08 million), which together comprise the bulk of Alberta’s population. However, I found in the east that many aren’t aware of this fact. Some have even assumed that Calgary itself is home to less than half a million, and that the province of Alberta is largely rural. This is partially understandable as neither Calgary nor Edmonton (or both of them combined) come close to such eastern colossi as Toronto or Montreal, but they are still quite sizeable cities which are as dynamic and busy as any major metropolis.

All the colours of the rainbow…
While in the recent past Alberta has been much “whiter” than other provinces, today the province is host to quite a diverse population. Roughly 1 in 5 Albertans belong to a visible minority group, and a similar percentage of Albertans have a mother tongue other than English. This can be seen by a visit to any of Calgary’s large shopping malls, where a multitude of ethnicities and languages is plainly visible and/or heard. So yes, my fellow visible minorities, you have nothing to fear from Albertans. Come for a visit, and we promise that we’ll refrain from lynching you and/or exposing you to public ridicule of your exotic appearance and mannerisms.

Warm winters and annoying headaches
Yup, temperatures can increase into the double digits even in the midst of winter. This is due to an interesting phenomenon called a Chinook, whereby masses of warm air periodically blow in from the mountains and increase temperatures to springtime levels. As an example of what a Chinook can do, the temperature can be -15 degrees on one day but then increase to +10 within 24 hours. The result is a winter punctuated by periods of warmth that can last for weeks if Chinooks are frequent enough. This isn’t always pleasant, as many people suffer migraines due to the sudden pressure changes, and the large volume of melted snow result in rivers of sludge and water invading busy roads.

Home to the World’s/Canada’s largest….
Alberta is the proud home of the world’s largest pysanka, or Ukrainian easter egg. This is located in a small town named Vegreville, near Edmonton, and was built in 1974 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s also a symbol of the significant Ukrainian population that currently resides in Alberta. As well, Alberta is home to Baitunnur, the largest mosque in Canada. This Calgary building was completed in 2008, and it services the worshipping needs of the Ahmaddiya Muslim community in the city. So, yeah…long story short, apparently we like things BIG!

We’ve got heritage!
Finally, Alberta is home to Canada’s largest concentration of World Heritage Sites (5 out of 15 in all of Canada). These include the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park. All in all, a nice collection of sites which make Alberta a fairly interesting place to visit.

So grab a cowboy hat and your tightest pair of jeans, and come on down! My personal bias aside, Alberta really is a pretty cool place to visit with lots to see and do. Whether you’re interested in cowboys, native culture, Dinosaurs or f***ing big easter eggs, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Wild Rose Province!

6 Things You Didn’t Know About The GTA

January 22, 2009

It is with great pleasure that I present our first guest writer here on The Alder Fork Blog. This is the second part of an ongoing series entitled 6 Things You Didn’t Know… Today the Greater Toronto Area is our topic, and Iwona Szkudlarek is our host on this amazing journey. She is a good friend of mine, a University of Toronto student, and a kindred spirit.  If you’d like to check out the first entry in the series you can find it here. If you want to learn about Alberta click here. Without further ado I bring you:

6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Greater Toronto Area

I love the area I live in.  I grew up in Oshawa and have called downtown Toronto home for the last few years. This makes  it really difficult to decide on only six things about the GTA that I consider to be interesting, important or little known. Despite that, I have agonized for days over it and here is my take on a few cool things about the area. 🙂

•    As we all probably know, diversity is the great pride of Canada and, to be honest, it is largely because of our metropolitan areas. With in mind, I  discovered that over 100+ languages are spoken in the GTA! Among these, Chinese, particularly Cantonese, is the most widely spoken in this area after English.  On a side note,  I attempted to find the number of languages spoken in the world for comparison but there doesn’t seem to be a definite statistics because of definition disputes (though I believe 6,000ish is a good guess). Regardless, 100+ is pretty awesome. Also, the  the region becomes even more diverse with each passing day, since a large portion of immigrants to Canada choose the GTA as their new home.  This definitely increases the diversity I encounter in my daily life, at the very least.

•    One quarter of Canada’s population lives within a 160 km radius of Toronto. This fact end up including more than just the GTA (I’m cheating a little) but it’s still significant. Being packed in like sardines seems to be the preference of many Canadians, if you consider how many live near the major city centres. Also, 3 GTA cities are in the top 20 most populated cities in Canada. Toronto is the most populated city in the nation, with Mississauga is 6th on the list and Oshawa as 15th.  All this probably comes to no surprise for GTAers,  especially those who have to commute through area during rush hour!

•    The Iroquois Shoreline is one of those facts that I’m never sure if people are aware of or what they may know about it. Well, it’s the shoreline of the glacial lake that existed where Lake Ontario is now.  The shoreline of this ancient lake extended inland 5km in Burlington and continued at various depths, east until the Scarborough Bluffs. It is really noticeable just south of St. Clair in Toronto, between Bathurst and the Don Valley. As a reminder of the last ice age, which happened 13,000 years ago, it was created when a giant chunk of ice blocked drainage from the lake and causing it to flood surrounding plains.  If you look really closely at the topography of the GTA, you can see ridges and valleys that mark areas that were once underwater.  This means that around 12,000 years ago, a good chunk of the Southern GTA was underwater. It’s amazing how much the area has changed since then! I recommend checking out the Scarborough bluffs and the ridge just south of St. Clair West, they both have beautiful views of the lake and the GTA.

•    Also on the edge of this shoreline, at Spadina and Davenport in Toronto, sits the only true castle in Canada.  I admit, I’m a history buff and living near Casa Loma absolutely feeds my love for castles, so this is a huge bias on my part.  Regardless, it’s a beautiful structure with an amazing view of the GTA from it’s turrets. Construction began in 1911, by Sir Henry Pellatt, a man who was clearly very wealthy. He never finished the project and eventually ended up bankrupt but the house landed in the hands of the Kiwanis Club of Toronto, who maintain the castle and land and run it’s tourist operations.  It is also a popular, if not expensive place, to hold a wedding. The Conservatory, with it’s gorgeous windows and fountains is regularly used for this purpose. It is also rented out for the purposes of film making and recently has been used for The Love Guru and X-Men. It is also might be used as a location of the up coming Scott Pilgrim movie, which is based on a  Toronto based comic series. All in all, it’s a pretty cool site!

•    Oshawa also has it’s own giant mansion, one that was home of the estate of R. S. McLaughlin. He was the founder of McLaughlin Carriages  (later McLaughlin Motor Car Company Limited), which became the catalyst for bringing General Motors into Canada. While in this day and age, people might argue as to whether GM is something to be proud of (with the environmental movement locking horns with the auto industry on a daily basis), Mclaughlin was an important guy for Oshawa. Not only did he start McLaughlin Carriages, he became the major of Oshawa and was the first president of the YMCA in the area. His company, and later GM and it’s subsidiaries, have provided tens of thousands of jobs for people in the GTA.  Plus, McLaughlin’s mansion is really nice and has served as a set for movies like Billy Madison and X-Men.

•    After mentioning several filming sites in the GTA already, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the impact that film and television has on the area. The entertainment industry has a large stake in the GTA, particularly the movie industry.  Since there is such a diversity of locations, significant tax breaks and a large amount of professionals around, it’s a fairly lucrative business. A lot of people know that movies are filmed in Toronto but most people don’t realize that it is a big moneymaker for the cities and businesses involved, bringing millions, if not billions into the economy of the GTA. The area is home to massive number of professionals, from hair and makeup, extras, actors, and crew who help this business thrive (and endure crazy hours and interesting locations to bring you the entertainment you enjoy on your screens). Everything from The Hulk to the American Pie franchise movies (we’re up to six, if you can believe it) are filmed in the area. While it’s no Hollywood, it’s important to our economy and a good place to start if you’re looking for a career in film and/or television. If you look closely while you watch movies, you might recognize a place that you are very familiar with!

Any information I used to support my information came from personal experience and Wikipedia.com.

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Southern Ontario

January 10, 2009

Today I am rolling out a new feature. Actually it’s a borrowed feature from the old Black Table website called “6 things you didn’t know about…” various U.S. states. For my purposes I have convened a pantheon of guest writers to cover the many provinces and territories of Canada.  The information will generally be stuff you won’t find on Wikipedia, but might know if you live in the province in question. I still have a few available so if you live somewhere in this great country and want to write about it contact me first.  I’ll let you know if your area is still up for grabs.  I also recommend checking out the original Black Table feature because it is great.

My contribution to this great effort is not actualy a province. I have decided to divide Ontario into at least three parts, Northern, Southern and the GTA.  It’d be really hard to generalize such a large and diverse place.  We are the largest in population and second largest in size among the provinces. Given my location in Hamilton (which will never truly be part of the GTA so take that Toronto) I am going to write about Southern Ontario, an area roughly defined as Niagara-Windsor and Lake Erie to Lake Huron. I am ignoring the bit with Kingston, Belleville and the Capital Region.  I think those last three might get their own entry as they are practically in Quebec.

Toronto? Boo! Or not…

Like most Canadians, people in Southern Ontario generally hate Toronto. We consider the citizens smug show offs, with too much land, and too much money. Corporate yuppie wannabes. They wanted to be their own province! How arrogant. Unlike most of Canada we also secretly love Toronto. This is because many of us have lived, worked, or visited the place and realize that it really is one of the best cities in the world.  We go to baseball and hockey games, we shop in the many awesome malls and shopping districts, we eat the delicious food, we view the world class art, and we enjoy the top notch entertainment. Young people go wild in the clubs (sometimes the old ones too). When we are outside of the city we insult and loathe it, but when there is fun to be had, guess where you’ll often find us. Despite this, I still say Oskee Wee Wee!

OOOOO Pretty Water Fall Down

Most people know about Niagara Falls with it’s cheesy stores, wax museums, and, oh yeah, the waterfall.  But did you know that the Niagara Escarpment (which runs from Niagara to Tobermory) is home to hundreds of other waterfalls? Hamilton alone has 97, ranging from majestic and beautiful, to leaky faucet like.  And if you get tired of watching water run over rock, we also have easy access to three of the 5 great lakes, something we have in common with Michigan.

Why do the Americans talk to us?

Southern Ontario was once home to Neutral, Huron, and Iroquois native tribes. But that is kind of irrelevant now, unless you are interested in land disputes.  Most of the settlements that exist today were founded by Loyalists. You know, those people who backed the losing side in the American War of Independence.  To some degree that explains the War of 1812, except for the part where we captured Detroit and Washington D.C. What this means is that Ontario has a rich British and Anglican history, that has mostly been supplanted by just about every other ethnic group in the last 300 years.  It doesn’t mean we can’t remember the pioneers who carved out a spot for themselves in some of the most fertile land in all of Canada. They kind of hit the jackpot when they came to Niagara and were handed land grants. Here have this land where you can grow any nice fruit you like, and in a couple hundred years you can make award winning wines for all to enjoy! This also led to the creation of places like Stratford, which belongs in England not Ontario.

We’ve got learning yes we do, we’ve got learning how ’bout you?

Southern Ontario is home to the greatest concentration of post-secondary institutions in the nation. We boast 7 universities in the area I roughly defined above, and numerous colleges and bible schools.  Of course the region also boasts the least educated electoral district in the country, Hamilton East, where only 3% of residents have a university degree. This fact underlines the great dichotomy of Southern Ontario, namely that two ways of life intermingle in one place. You have the highly educated professionals, many of whom work in Toronto, juxtaposed against the blue collar manufacturing and agricultural workers. It makes for some great dinner time conversation.

Come and see for yourself

Despite being a fairly boring place, Southern Ontario has a successful tourism industry. I know it’s true because I used to see the monthly statistics.  So where do people go? Niagara Falls is the obvious first choice, being the honeymoon capital that it is.  More unusual options include the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, The Clay and Glass Museum in Waterloo, Storybook Gardens in London, and the ever popular beaches along Lake Erie.  Considering that on the other side of Lake Erie is Cleveland, you might want to be careful in that water.  Hamilton, Burlington, and Milton are convenient places to stay when you want to get a bit of everything, including the dreaded Toronto.

New world, old world, green world, blue world

Perhaps the best part about Southern Ontario is it’s diversity.  It’s well known that Toronto is one of the most multi cultural cities in the world, but not even it can match up with what the surrounding region has to offer.  We have a thriving Mennonite community in Waterloo Region.  We have large populations of many Asian communities ranging from Chinese to Filipino to Indian.  You want religion? We have Buddhists, Muslims, every kind of Christian, even our own wacky cults. Kitchener and Hamilton are top locations for new immigrants to start out.  Our border crossings handle a lot of traffic every year (ever try to get across the Peace Bridge on a Saturday? Yikes!)  Luckily we have avoided a lot of the racial tension that can occur when this many people intermingle in one place.  Remember, Southern Ontario was, for a brief time, the preferred destination of escaping slaves on the underground railroad. Harriet Tubman spent time here. Even the WASPs have learnt to play nice. Southern Ontario welcomes you like a warm blanket on a cold day, then dumps 3 feet of snow on you. But the summer’s are great!

It’s pretty clear that I love Southern Ontario. It has been my home for all 26 years of my life.  Would I recommend visiting? You bet! Just so you know, “Hamilton Mountain,” Not a mountain at all.

Other entries in this series

GTA

Alberta