Sunday, December 30, 2012


I lived in Montreal for over 30 years, but I still remember the adjustment to the local (anglo) dialect when I moved there. I heard terms that had been borrowed from French like “depanneur”, and terms that had been partially translated like “javel water” (from eau de javel or “bleach”), and terms that had been literally translated like “file” (dossier). A twelve-pack became a “case of 12”, and a two-four a “case of 24”. I'm still not sure what a six-pack is. Adjusting culturally wasn't just a matter of mastering the two-cheek kiss, it also involved learning a new dialect, Montreal English.

Now, I have the same challenge. Coming to Edmonton, I knew I would no longer find any depanneurs, even if there is a convenience store on every other corner. Store names, even of familiar chains, are different. Here Couche Tard is Mac's, Pharmaprix is Shopper's Drug Mart, and Dix Mille Villages is Ten Thousand Villages. And the Metro is the LRT (though outside of downtown it's a surface rail system, not a subway).

We've encountered some unfamiliar geographical features such as hoodoos and badlands and coulees and buffalo jumps. And we're becoming accustomed to hearing (and one day doubtless will be saying) some unfamiliar terms. Here are a few:

Lodge – a residence for autonomous or semi-autonomous elderly people in which each individual or couple maintains a private residence but benefits from some communal activities and services such as meal service, though not generally nursing care; not to be confused with a nursing home.

Patio – an outdoor section of a restaurant enjoyed during summer; a sidewalk cafe; what is referred to in Montreal as a terrasse.

Lounge – a drinking establishment where one might also eat a snack or a meal; not really a bar, although there will be a bar in the lounge; similar to, but perhaps quieter and perhaps more posh (or pretentious) than a pub.

Suite – an individual dwelling in an apartment or condominium building.

Parkade – no, not a cool drink enjoyed in a park – a structure for indoor parking which may be one or more levels at, under or above ground level; could be a whole building or part of a building which has other purposes on other levels.

Stall – a space for parking a vehicle, either in a parking lot or in a parkade; (perhaps a re-purposing of the same term for a space for parking a horse?) We have a stall in the parkade of our condo building.

Blading – scraping snow on the street using heavy equipment such as a grader; the goal is not to remove the snow, but rather to scrape the frozen snow-pack to remove ruts and leave a smooth surface, which may be several centimetres above the street surface, and may also be much smoother than the street surface below.

Acreage – a sizable plot of land outside the city on which (usually) a sizable house is built.

Pedway – an indoor pedestrian walkway which may take the form of an underground tunnel or above-ground bridge between buildings, or a thoroughfare through a building, LRT station or parkade; there is a whole pedway network through downtown Edmonton, similar to Montreal's underground city except that parts of the pedway are at or above ground level.

A Pedway
I'm sure my lexicon of the Alberta dialect will expand over time. As it does I'll try to add other interesting terms.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Previously I have written about navigation in Edmonton, and how easy it is to find nearly any given address using the street grid. But there's a funny quirk about the grid.

In cities in Central Canada, such as Toronto or Montreal, there is a dividing line running down the centre of the city which neatly divides it into east and west, or perhaps into north and south. In Toronto, the line is Yonge Street; in Montreal it's St Laurent Blvd. So an address on Bloor Street East in Toronto, for example, is on that part of Bloor Street which is to the east of Yonge Street. Similarly, an address on Ste Catherine Street West in Montreal is to the west of St Laurent Blvd.

Not so in Edmonton. My office address is on 103 Street NW. But that doesn't mean that it's on that portion of 103 Street which is to the north-west of some dividing line. Rather, in Edmonton, the NW refers to the quadrant of the city rather than the direction from a specific line. There are in effect two meridians in Edmonton dividing the city into four quadrants. But the east-west meridian was placed far to the south of the city and the north-south meridian far to the east. So, with a few exceptions such as a rail yard in the North-East quadrant, until recent growth of the city beyond the meridians virtually the whole city of Edmonton was (and still is) in the North-West quadrant. So in fact, for many addresses, it's irrelevant that the address is in the North-West, even if NW is technically part of the address.

As I mentioned before, Streets in Edmonton run North-South and Avenues are East-West in direction. They are numbered sequentially (more or less) from the meridians, which would be street or avenue number zero (where there is in fact a road on the meridian). Streets and avenues in the same quadrant of the city are both labelled NW (or NE, SE or SW). So where in other cities you might have a corner of X Street W and Y Street N, in Edmonton you have the corner of, say, 103 Street NW and Jasper Avenue NW. Sometimes there are gaps in streets or avenues. For example, it's not possible to drive in a straight line along 101 Street from end to end. Instead there are several 101 Streets, or several pieces of 101 Street, depending on how you look at it. But if there's a street along that part of the grid, it's called 101 Street. And the street address will give a quick guide to which piece of the street you're looking for, whether the bit between 48 Avenue and 45 Avenue, or the next bit south between 42 Avenue and 39 Avenue (NW that is). (An address on the first section would be between 4500 and 4800, whilst an address on the second bit would be between 3900 and 4200.)

Some streets, obviously, cross the meridians, so for example 111 Street SW is the southern continuation of 111 Street NW. And 167 Avenue NE is the eastern continuation of 167 Avenue NW. But here's where things get confusing. There is a 17 Street NW and also a 17 Street NE. But these are not continuations of the same street across a meridian. These are two very separate streets 34 blocks apart and parallel to each other. That's where the quadrant reference becomes essential to finding an address. Because without it, you wouldn't necessarily just be at the wrong end of a street, you could be on the wrong street entirely, many blocks from the correct street.

There are some natural barriers to the growth of the city to the east (the city of Sherwood Park) and the south (the airport), but as long as numbered streets remain in vogue in the newer parts of the city in quadrants other than NW, the quadrant reference will become increasingly important as the city of Edmonton grows.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Today winter threw just about everything it had at us. The morning started with freezing rain, which progressed to ice pellets and finally a good few centimetres of snow by evening.

Time to bring out the overshoes.

When I moved to Edmonton last winter I was invited to a party at a friend's house. Great party, gracious hosts, nice people. When I arrived my friend took one look at my overshoes and laughed. “Those are Eastern things,” he said. “We don't wear those in Edmonton.”

So as I set out this morning my friend's words came to mind. I decided to take a look at what people were wearing on their feet. Admittedly it wasn't exactly a scientific poll, just what one person could see in a 2.5 km stretch of downtown with freezing rain and ice pellets. And the same again in the evening trudging through a few cm of snow and slush.

I saw lots of different footwear.

I saw people wearing running shoes. I saw people wearing moccasins and mukluks. I saw one young woman wearing slipper-like party shoes that would have gone well with a cocktail dress (but not so well with ice pellets). Several people wore sensible-looking winter boots. Several women wore stylish-but-not-so-sensible-looking knee-high boots (often with rather precarious-looking high heels). Men in suits mostly wore dress shoes.

But near as I could tell, I was the only person on Jasper Avenue wearing overshoes.

I guess my friend was right. I wonder if anyone noticed my alien overshoes and laughed?

At least I arrived at the office, and again back home, with dry feet and clean shoes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Airport Codes

Anyone who flies very often quickly becomes aware of the three-letter airport codes that appear on baggage claim tickets, boarding passes and so on. And anyone who flies in Canada probably wonders why Canadian airport codes all seem to start with the letter Y, whilst in most normal countries they seem to have airport codes that at least relate to the city. Other countries get recognizable codes like HKG (Hong Kong) or PEK (Beijing, formerly known as Peking) or LAX (Los Angeles). Some international airport codes relate to the name of the airport: JFK (John F Kennedy – New York), CDG (Charles de Gaulle – Paris), LHR (London Heathrow). Though you'd have to be in the know to recognize FCO (Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino) as Rome. Not in Canada. Here we get such inscrutable combinations of letters as YQY (Sydney, Nova Scotia; not to be confused with SYD – Sydney, Australia – though from time to time one does read of foreign tourists who manage to mix the two up, and can be found looking for the Opera House near the Port-aux-Basques ferry.)

Strictly speaking, there are two sets of airport codes, the three-letter IATA codes and four-letter ICAO codes. You can generally get the ICAO codes for Canadian airports by sticking a C in front of the IATA codes. (Why the two organizations feel the need for different sets of codes is a whole separate topic).

I don't know exactly why Canadian airport codes all seem to start with the letter Y. Googling the question reveals a complex technical explanation having to do with weather stations. Actually, not all Canadian airport codes do start with Y.

According to this database, there are 401 airports in Canada. 322 of them have IATA codes that start with Y, 33 with Z, 4 with X and 7 with other letters. 35 have no IATA airport code at all. Nevertheless, the big airports do all have codes starting with Y. Given that restriction, at least some relate to the city, like YVR (Vancouver) and YWG (Winnipeg). And YOW is obviously Ottawa (derived from a word commonly uttered when people see their tax bills). But most seem pretty random, like YYZ.

I like to fly. I don't fly as much as really hard-core frequent flyers, but I do fly a bit every year. So far I have flown in and out of 18 Canadian airports and 22 international ones. Oh, and 2 heliports. (And I have flights booked that will take me to four new international airports this fall). So when I named this blog I thought it would be fun to use the airport codes for Montreal and Edmonton in the name: YUL (Montreal) 2 YEG (Edmonton). It also made for a short and memorable URL for the blog. But I thought it was a bit of an insider reference. People who have flown often enough into or out of either city would recognize the codes instantly, but that would be it, I thought.

I was wrong.

In Edmonton, YEG is way more than an airport code. It has taken on a life of its own, as a general city reference, especially in the Twitterverse, where #yeg is a commonplace hashtag for the city, and compounds of #yeg abound: #yegtraffic, #yegtransit, #yegarts, #yegfestivals, #yegdt (Downtown), #yegcc (City Council) and on and on. The @CityofEdmonton, the police, the media, and ordinary Edmontonians all use this convention. This afternoon, while I was pondering this post on a stroll downtown, I even saw a car with the civic-pride vanity license plate YEG4ME. (Really! I am not making this up!) Ironically, YEG the airport isn't actually in the City of Edmonton; it's about 20 minutes to the south. Edmonton City Centre Airport (also known as Blatchford Field) is YXD. It's just a few blocks from where I live. Though it's also in the process of closing. And strangely enough, YEG the airport seems to prefer to refer to itself as EIA (Edmonton International Airport). But YEG is a well-known and apparently much-used reference.

Not so in Montreal. There the most common abbreviated reference to the city is MTL and #mtl is the common hashtag. YUL refers to Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport (formerly known as Dorval) and usually not much else. (Though there seem to be some people who are trying to use #yul as a more general hashtag, as a quick search on Twitter will show.) YUL always reminds me of Christmas, as well as Montreal's airport. But not really the city. People know what it is, but they don't seem to feel the need to extend its use beyond the airport. MTL just seems more natural.

I don't know what all this means. Maybe Edmontonians fly more than Montrealers. Or maybe #yeg is simply amazing cool. Or maybe it doesn't mean very much at all.

But I do find the currency of the airport code outside the airport and frequent-flyer conversations curious.

All Hail

According to the Edmonton Journal, yesterday was the 21st day we have had a thunder storm so far this summer. Evidently there are an average of 19 per year. And what a storm it was! We had the full treatment as the temperature plummeted quickly and then we were hit with blasts of thunder, lightning strikes, torrential rain and hail.

It was fun to watch from safely indoors, but I don't imagine it was much fun to be out in, especially as the hailstones the size of gumballs (not quite golf balls) would have hurt.

We've had a number of serious storms among the 21, with some flooding of streets and homes, and other damage.

Here's hoping for some nicer weather ahead.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Deep South

Recently we spend a weekend in the Deep South. No, not Savannah or Charleston, but Lethbridge, in the Deep South of Alberta. At least we were able to see the Oldman River. (Oops, wrong link.)

Looking South toward Montana

Compared to Central Alberta, the South is an alien landscape, of badlands and hoodoos and coulees and high prairie. The inhabitants seem to be prepared to welcome aliens themselves.

Southern Alberta looks very different from the now familiar central part. To our eyes the fields looked less green; trees were fewer and farther between, except in the river valleys and coulees; and if the irrigation equipment in nearly every field is any indication, Southern Alberta is a much more arid place. Driving south, after passing Calgary, we could see the foothills and Rocky Mountains to the west and the flat prairie to the east.

Having landed in the south, we had a couple of days to explore. It was hot, around 33 degrees in the shade, if you could find any.

We paid a visit to Writing on Stone Provincial Park where we were able to hike among the hoodoos in the Milk River valley.

Milk River in Writing-on-Stone Park
The landscape was stunning, and the rock formations quite impressive.





In addition to the natural landscape there were also some petroglyphs.

Lots of impressive scenes, and some lovely flowers to be seen on our hike.

All in all, we enjoyed Writing-on-Stone.

On Day 2 of our short stay we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

The interpretive centre is built unobtrusively into the side of the cliff beside the actual Buffalo Jump. There we learned how the local Blackfoot hunted buffalo (or bison) by driving them off the cliff. It must have taken great skill, co-operation and bravery to achieve a successful hunt. 

The Buffalo Jump
A couple of short trails on the site provide an opportunity to see some of the plants... 

...and to enjoy the views.

After Head-Smashed-In, we made a quick stop in Vulcan on our way home, where we managed to snap the photos at the top of the page.

It was a short visit leaving much unexplored, but a lovely weekend. We'll be back.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Shrine at Edmonton General Hospital
Several years ago a friend of mine published a guidebook to Canadian shrines. It was quite comprehensive, including the big, well-known shrines like Ste Anne de Beaupré, and small road-side shrines that had been set up by who knows whom in devotion to the Mother of God or the Sacred Heart of Jesus or some saint or other.

But there's another kind of shrine that we're increasingly aware of in Western culture. I'm referring to the popular sort of shrine that usually appears spontaneously to mark either the location of a tragedy or devotion to someone famous who has died. Under the rubric of popular shrines I would include the candles and flowers and sympathy cards at Kensington Palace after Princess Diana died, or similar displays after the Montreal Massacre, or when any public figure dies. It's interesting, in passing, that in our secular age so many people seem to discover quickly where to find the votive candles that are so often part of these popular shrines.

Then there are the smaller version of popular shrines, the little clusters of bouquets, or perhaps a small wooden cross, which mark the spot of a road accident. These are definitely visible along the highways in Alberta as they are anywhere in North America. Driving on the highway I can't help but wonder about whether certain locations are particularly dangerous, given the presence of several memorials.

Edmonton also has what I like to call municipal shrines. These are locations marked by city road signs as places where someone has died in a traffic accident. In the case of the one shown here, it was mixed with a popular shrine, as someone had carefully taped a photo of the deceased and some plastic flowers to the pole beneath the municipal sign.

I guess the message of these municipal shrines is not so much to honour the accident victim as to remind drivers that they bear responsibility for the life and safety of pedestrians, and that taking that responsibility too lightly results in someone's fatality.

Be careful out there. And, oh yes, may the victims of traffic accidents rest in peace.