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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Longest Day

Today is the day of the Summer Solstice, the day the sun stops (which is what “solstice” means) in its trek northward, and turns south again. It's the first day of summer and the longest day from dawn to dusk in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in the northernmost North American city with a metropolitan population over a million, it has been a fine and sunny day, indeed, in spite of earlier predictions of rain.

A few months ago I was marvelling at the shortness of the day. I noted that the sun rises much later in Edmonton than in Montreal in winter, although it sets at about the same time.

In summer, the dynamic is the opposite. Now the sun rises at about the same time as in Montreal, but it sets much later. Daylight savings at work. According to Environment Canada, sunrise this morning was at 5:04 in Edmonton (I'll take their word for it) and sunset will be at 22:07. That's 17:03 of daylight. In contrast, in Montreal the sun rose at 5:06 and sets at 20:47 for 15:41 of daylight. Somehow having an extra hour and 20 minutes of daylight on a June evening more than compensates for having an hour and a quarter less on a January morning.

Needing my sunglasses to drive at 21:30 will take some getting used to, but I'm willing to make the sacrifice.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Extreme Gas Prices

Gas prices finally came down a bit on the weekend.

In Montreal there are two common extreme sports that just about everyone practices. One is jaywalking. The other is buying gas. It's an art to buy gas at just the right price in Montreal because the fluctuations in prices are huge. The trick is to time the empty tank with the bottom of the gyrations in price. If you miss it by an hour, you're out of luck because the price has shot up 10 cents or more per litre.

A graph (thanks to of gas prices in Montreal over the last month demonstrates the volatility of prices.

But in Edmonton prices tend to be much more stable. The price drop on the weekend was the first change in about 3 weeks or so. Here's a graph of Edmonton prices over the last month.

The only trouble with price stability is that people were getting pretty tired of paying such high prices and were ready for the correction when it came. And then a 4 cent drop was so welcome, no-one really complains much about the fact that gas prices are still pretty lofty. At least by Edmonton standards.

Here's a graph with both Montreal and Edmonton on it for the last month.

So if it's excitement one is after, extreme gas buying isn't an option in Edmonton.

And almost no-one jaywalks.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sausage and Eggs

I enjoy sausage and eggs for breakfast from time to time. I ate one of the most memorable such breakfasts at a home where I was staying in Newfoundland over 20 years ago. The sausage on that occasion turned out to be made from moose. Delicious.

But in Alberta sausage and eggs are not only a good choice for breakfast. They also make for monuments.

Today I visited Vegreville to take a service at the local church. It was a nice group of people, and an enjoyable service. After the service there was a lovely coffee hour with loads of food and loads of discussion about tomorrow's provincial election. Then it was time to play tourist a bit on the way home. It was a perfect day for it – warm and sunny.

First stop was Vegreville's famous pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter Egg. Constructed of aluminium in the mid-1970s, the pysanka is enormous. It weighs some 2.5 tonnes and is mounted in such a way that it can turn in the wind, like a giant Easter weathervane. The pysanka was built to honour both the Ukrainian heritage of many of the area's residents and the centenary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It's still billed as the world's largest pysanka.

Very impressive!

Then, on the way home, it was from the sublime to the, er, ... not quite so sublime. We stopped in at Mundare to see their giant kubasa, constructed in honour of the local sausage maker. “Kubasa,” I discovered, is a Canadian English word, evidently a corruption of the Ukranian “kovbasa”, which is a cognate of the Polish “kielbasa,” which means sausage. The origin of the term seems to be a Turkic language. Kubasa is pretty commonly eaten in Alberta, either on a hot-dog bun, as a “kubie”, or on a hamburger bun (a kubie burger) or in slices on a tray of snacks. In fact, there was some kubasa and cheese as part of the coffee hour this morning.

Another lesson in Alberta's geography and culture.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Road trip!

Last week a few of us from the office took a road trip. The occasion was a sad one, the deconsecration of a church that we were selling. For the local people who gathered for this event it was the death of dreams, and a time for them to remember with sadness all the memories of what had happened in that church building over the years: memories of weddings, of baptisms, of funerals; memories of regular worship and of grander occasions like Christmas. And as the Bishop led us in prayers of thanksgiving for all the ministry that had been associated with that place, and read the certificate of deconsecration, it felt a bit like a funeral.

The trip itself was quite eventful. The Treasurer and I started out first thing in the morning in a rented car for a three-hour journey. The roads were rather nasty, as we had had a snowstorm the day before – the first in several weeks. After a slippery start, conditions eventually improved and we made our way to our destination, where we met up with the Bishop and her Assistant. Then, after taking care of a few details at the church, and deconsecrating it, we stopped for a quick lunch and started out for home.

That's when things got interesting. 

The Treasurer pointed out that we were only a short detour away from a local monument, so off to Glendon, the home of the Big Pyrogy! It wasn't hard to find. Just in case you couldn't see the huge Pyrogy held aloft on a fork in Pyrogy Park (at the corner of Pyrogy Drive and 1st Ave), there was a sign pointing the way. Across the street was Pyrogy Park Cafe, with a sign offering All-day Breakfast, Western & Chinese Cuisine, Vietnamese Dishes and (of course) Pyrogies!

Shouldn't have eaten that hamburger!

Election Fever

Alberta is in the middle of an election campaign. Near as I can tell the question is whether Albertans will give the Progressive Conservative Party a majority or an overwhelming majority. Or perhaps vote Wildrose and shift the province to the right, ending a 41-year PC dynasty.

But I have to sit this one out. For the first time in my adult life, I find myself unable to vote. Not because I can't decide which candidate to support. It's because the Alberta Elections Act defines an elector in section 1(1)(j) as "a Canadian citizen, [who] is 18 years of age or older and is, and has been for at least the immediately preceding 6 months, ordinarily resident in Alberta." (emphasis added) Since we just moved here three months ago, that last bit means that we don't meet the residency requirement. So we find ourselves disenfranchised.

Alberta will pay for me to receive medical care. Alberta will certify my fitness to operate a motor-vehicle, and license said vehicle to be driven on public roads. Alberta will even happily collect taxes from me, retroactive to January 2011. But let me vote? Nope. :-(

And, lest this seem like Alberta-bashing, because it really isn't intended to be, let me point out that the same is true in almost all of the rest of the country. With the exceptions of Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, it seems, every other province in Canada requires 6 months' residency before you can vote in a provincial election. It's just the luck of the draw that the writ was dropped before we were here for six months. And I imagine we're far from the only Canadians living in Alberta who can't vote in this election.

Maybe once the dust has settled, and we know which leader's campaign bus has taken her to victory, the legislature should revisit that six-month waiting period for voting. And not just the Alberta legislature, but the legislatures of all the other provinces that still deny the vote to newcomers.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blue Skies

Many years ago, I recall reading that postcards of scenes in Ontario were usually doctored. Apparently all those lovely cards from Niagara Falls had their Ontario skies excised and replaced with skies from Alberta. I'm beginning to see why.

We can go for many days without seeing a cloud. The sky here is rich and clear and very photogenic. And there's much more sunlight every day. Just over a month ago I wrote that sunrise was 8:50 and sunset 16:29. Today the sun rose at 8:00 and set at 17:36. It's a staggering rate of change - fast enough that we can see a noticeable difference every week, if not quite from one day to the next. Already I'm going to work and returning home in daylight.

The forecast calls for more sunny days ahead, though perhaps a flurry or two on Wednesday. I can't remember when we saw snow last. It seems like it's been a couple of weeks at least.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Transit Etiquette

It's not uncommon to hear people say "thank you" on the way out the bus door in many cities. "Thank you", "merci", "cheers!" It doesn't take much to acknowledge the bus driver as a human being as you walk past him or her to get off the bus. And lots of people do it.

But here in Edmonton there's a twist: lots of people call out "thank you' from the back door of the bus as they get off! I've never seen that in any city before. It just about blew me away when I first heard it!

And then the transit experience stepped up to yet another level this week. As the bus stopped, the driver called out to those exiting to watch out because there was a sweeper coming on the sidewalk. (This is a smallish tractor-like vehicle with a large rotating cylindrical brush on the front.) I imagine walking out straight into those bristles would be a rather nasty experience, so good on the driver for warning the passengers rather than just leaving them to their own deivces.

But, this being Edmonton, the bus driver's warning, while welcome, was unnecessary. Because the sweeper driver noticed the bus and stopped to let the passengers get off unscathed.

Even though I wasn't getting off at that stop, I thought "thank you" to both drivers.

A great start to the day!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


No, not the town. Us. We're legal!

We now have drivers' licenses in hand and an Alberta license plate on our car. We decided against a vanity plate and just got another set of numbers and letters for me to memorize. In the process of obtaining the plate, the Registry agent said "Now you're real Albertans." Well, almost. We will be once we get our Alberta health cards, for which there's a three-month waiting period. But at least the paper work is done for that, so all we need to do now is wait for them to come in the mail. But until then, the only thing marking us as Quebecers is our Medicare cards.

Actually, we don't have drivers' licenses. We have Operators' Permits. They're pretty fancy with all sorts of hard-to-counterfeit features. Pity about the photo on mine.

Another thing the Registry agent told us was that it seems to be popular around here to steal license plates. Sufficiently so that the Police department gives out locking screws for license plates. We got a pair, but the threads are completely different from our old ones, so in the end we simply reinstalled the old screws with the new plate.

But now we're real Albertans. Or at least, we can impersonate them on the road. Maybe we'll even take a trip to Legal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I remember a column in the Montreal Gazette a zillion years ago by Nick Auf der Maur about what he called warmcuts. I don't know if he coined the term or not, but the Urban Dictionary defines a warmcut as "a pedestrian route chosen for its warmth, rather than because it makes the pedestrian's trip shorter." Nick Auf der Maur's column described his route from home to the office: cross this street, enter that building, walk across the lobby to the other side (in the warmth), then exit, cross the next street, enter the next building and so on. In Montreal the process is aided by the underground connections among a variety of buildings. The Underground City is big enough that there is a mini-marathon through it.

In Edmonton we have what's known as the Pedway. This consists of connections both underground and above-ground. There are many second-floor enclosed bridges across downtown streets from one building to another that allow the pedestrian to avoid the need to spend too much time outdoors. Obviously, when it's cold out (this morning started at -18 or so, after record-breaking highs a day or two ago) it's nice to be able to go about simple business without having to spend too much time outdoors. Today I was taken on a bit of a warmcut tour from the office to the bank so we could transact some business.

Now, if we can figure out a way to avoid having to stand on windblown corners waiting for a pedestrian crossing light.....

Saturday, January 7, 2012


My car arrived yesterday! So, after I got the call saying my car was in Edmonton, I took a cab way out of town to a rail yard, to pick it up. It took two weeks for my car to make its 3000 km journey, like a latter-day Paddle to the Sea, and here it is in Edmonton, none the worse for wear, though a little dusty (to say the least). I wonder what stories it could tell?

So now my collection of keys is almost back to normal. (I should be getting office keys on Monday.) And I have managed to drive in Alberta for the first time. 

So where to go for the first official trip? Where else? The West Edmonton Mall.

Most people have heard of the West Edmonton Mall, but seeing is truly believing. It's humonguous. We strolled from end to end, checked out Chinatown, wandered down Bourbon Street, watched people skating and swimming and climbing and playing on the water-borne bumper cars, browsed in a couple of shops. Mostly we were there simply to gawk, although I'm sure we will return for some serious shopping at some point. Probably we'll become regulars at the large Chinese grocery store there. It's much bigger than any back in Montreal. Bigger than many general grocery store in Montreal, in fact.

It's funny: we used to live about 15 minutes from the largest shopping mall in Eastern Canada; now we live 15 minutes from the largest shopping mall in all of Canada. The big difference between the two, other than the size, is the non-shopping amenities here in Edmonton. More than just a place to shop, the West Edmonton Mall is also a place to spend the day (or longer if you stay at the hotel.) I don't know how many days we're likely to spend there; we're really not big shoppers. But it was fun to visit.

And it was gratifying to see that I can get around my new city so easily by car. I feel pretty well oriented, even though there is still a lot to discover. But that's part of the fun.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shorter Days

Edmonton is a fair piece further north than Montreal, so days are decidedly shorter in winter. (They will be longer in summer, though!) But there's a slightly funny dynamic at play here. Because Montreal is so far east in its time zone, all the extra daylight there comes in the morning.

For example, according to Environment Canada, today (January 5) sunrise in Montreal was 7:35 and in Edmonton it was 8:50, exactly an hour and a quarter later. That makes for a very dark start to the day!

But sunset is another story. Today's sunset in Montreal was 16:25, and actually four minutes later (16:29) in Edmonton. OK, four minutes isn't as big a deal as an hour and a quarter. But calling it even, daylight ends in Edmonton at about the same time as it does in Montreal. So, although mornings are definitely darker, by the time evening arrives at roughly the same time as I am accustomed to, I find I've pretty much forgotten how late the sun rose. Unless I'm blogging about it, that is.

So far, I'm not really minding the darkness of the morning, perhaps in part because of the novelty of it. But I am certainly looking forward to seeing how the longer summer days feel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Around

Edmonton gives the impression of being a pretty car-friendly city. The street grid is pretty straightforward, and there's an ample supply of of major thoroughfares by which one might get from point A to point B. And gas is pretty cheap here, too. I just saw it being sold for $1.00 per litre. (I last purchased gas in Montreal for $1.27.)

But for all that it might seem like the car is king here, there's another dynamic at play: pedestrians rule!

Coming from a city where daily survival as a pedestrian is a major accomplishment, walking in Edmonton is a real treat! Not only do drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, they even back up out of crosswalks to allow pedestrians through! I haven't quite got used to the idea that I don't need to hesitate before taking my life in my hands by stepping into an intersection. My Montreal self-preservation instincts are still too strong.

Navigation is just as easy as walking, too. In the downtown and older parts of the city most streets are numbered. Streets go north-south, with street numbers increasing from east to west. Avenues go east-west with avenue numbers increasing from south to north. So 103rd Avenue is one block north of 102nd and so on. Street (and Avenue) addresses relate to the cross-streets, counting up (theoretically) 100 numbers from cross street to cross street. So, my office is at 10035 103rd Street, which means it's between 100th Avenue and 101st Avenue. Actually, there is no 101st Avenue because it's named Jasper. But the principle is sound. (And if you're really good, you know that odd numbers are on the east side of streets.) 

All this makes it really easy to assess whether a given address is near or far, and to know exactly where to find it. We hardly need a map to find our way around, as long as we know the address where we are going.

I'm sure it's theoretically possible to get lost in Edmonton, but it looks like it would take some serious effort.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not in Kansas Anymore

Most Canadians are aware that Alberta, unlike other provinces in Canada, has privatised the sale of alcoholic beverages. In Quebec, it's semi-private in that beer and some wine may be sold in grocery and convenience stores, but hard liquor, and a much better selection of wines and imported beers is only available at the government-run Société des Alcools du Québec – SAQ. But here in Alberta, the retail side of alcohol is entirely private. This gives rise to the same problem for newcomers as I have described with respect to grocery shopping. How do we choose which store(s) to patronise? The variables in making the decision are complex. Visits to three or four different stores have revealed that they all seem to cater to a specific clientele, with their own selection of products, slightly different prices in some cases, and in-store specials. As with groceries, it will come down to a matter of finding store(s) that cater to our specific tastes. And, although the choice may seem a bit overwhelming (except, so far, when it comes to French wines!) as with groceries, we have already come across some interesting discoveries of products unknown in Quebec.

One thing about Alberta we didn't know about before has to do with the acquisition of government documents for vital statistics and that sort of thing. In New Brunswick when you need to acquire a birth certificate or marriage license, you go to Service New Brunswick; across Canada when you need to apply for a pension or employment insurance you go to Service Canada. There is an organization called Service Alberta, but as near as I can tell, it doesn't actually provide any services to the general public. Instead, its role seems to be to regulate the provision of vital statistics services by private companies called registries. So, rather than simply look up the location of the nearest government office to go and get started on becoming recognized Albertans, we had to go through the same kind of choice of private company with which to do that business as with groceries. We looked through different companies' websites from among several that seemed within reasonable proximity and made our choice. Fortunately we found one that was pretty close and looked like a reasonable company to deal with. Once we made our choice, the process wasn't any more complex than dealing with a government office, though I don't know that it was much better. OK, scratch that. Since I wrote this I was contacted by the (private) registry office to say there was a small error in my file that had to be corrected. Thing is, the person I dealt with went to some lengths to find me, because when I went in I didn't yet have a local telephone number. I don't know how hard a government functionary would have worked to track me down. So kudos to the person for going the extra kilometre. And so we are now armed with temporary drivers' licenses, and await the permanent ones in the mail.

I suppose that in becoming recognized as Albertans by the Alberta government, not actually interacting with a government agency to do so makes us real Albertans.

We're certainly not in Kansas anymore.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Retail Paralysis

On a couple of occasions I have found myself in a foreign country needing over the counter medication and have found it rather time-consuming to decide what exactly to buy. First there is the problem of different names for familiar ingredients. Who would have guessed that acetaminophen is called paracetamol outside North America? Then there is the problem of unfamiliar brand names. What criteria to use to decide whether to buy Madame X's or Doctor Y's cough elixir?

Now, I'm experiencing the same thing when it come to buying groceries and drug store items in Edmonton. I'm in the same country, but I may as well be overseas. And the problem is exacerbated by an abundance of choice. There are no fewer than four grocery stores within reasonable walking distance from home (and as the car hasn't arrived yet, we're definitely walking). The trouble is that they're all unfamiliar. One I've visited a few times before in Atlantic Canada, but it's also the farthest and seems to be the smallest, offering mainly an upscale urban selection. Still, it does have some nice products and offers frequent flier miles. Another store I've heard of before, but have never visited. It seems to be the biggest and offers a good selection of products (plus, if only we had our car, it offers a discount on gas if you purchase a certain minimum amount of groceries.) There are too many possible criteria, some of them quite arbitrary, by which to choose a store. And the same is true of the three or four drug stores in close proximity.

But having chosen which store to shop in today, then there is the problem of unfamiliar brands. Which brand of milk should we buy? How do we decide? And there's some sugar with an unfamiliar brand name, but a familiar-looking package. Turn it over. Yup, it turns out to be made by the same company as the brand we used back in Montreal, but using what must be a Western brand name. At least with that information the choice is easy.

All of this, plus the unfamiliar layout of each store, makes shopping a much longer process than usual. We have to stop at just about every item and spend a minute or two trying to decide which version to buy. Store brand? Local brand? National brand? What looks promising? How do prices compare? It's far from an exact science to make each decision, and the criteria vary each time. We probably look like deer caught in the headlights to other shoppers, as we slow their progress.

All of this will pass, of course. Within a few weeks we'll be familiar with the store layouts and the selection of brands, and shopping will once again be a quicker process, as we become capable of finding what we're looking for. But for now, it's a learning and discovery process. Part of the latter is finding new and exciting regional products, like Saskatoon Berry jam. (Yum!) Who knows what discoveries still await us?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A visit to Church

This morning we went to our local parish Church. It's just a few blocks away, a convenient walk, which was a good thing because this morning was the coldest we've had since arriving in Edmonton. I had fun along the way counting magpies.

I've seen magpies before, in the UK and in Korea, but as near as I know there aren't any in central or eastern Canada. At least, I don't recall ever seeing one before in Canada. We counted eight magpies, and one crow, on our journey. None of them seemed to realize, or care, that it was -14 degrees. We realized it, but I don't think we really much cared, either.

We arrived at Church and were warmly greeted. Being New Year's Day, the congregation was smaller than usual, and the choir and Rector were both off. But no matter. The assistant (Curate?) presided and preached an interesting sermon with references to Plato and Doctor Who. And the service and hymns were just fine. It all felt good. The interesting bit was that we were able to slip in incognito. The greeters obviously knew we were visitors, but none seemed to recognize us. That's good, because it gave us the chance to see – very possibly for the only time in the diocese, given my role as Executive Archdeacon – how newcomers were treated at our local parish. If it were a test (and I suppose it was, of a sort) the parish passed with flying colours. After the service one person came up and said he recognized us from a photo that had been in the diocesan newspaper. And both priest and organist were genuinely friendly and welcoming even before I explained who I was. But I had a sense that we were welcomed as guests rather than as someone with an important-sounding title. I feel sure that anyone else would have had a similar experience.

I look forward to getting to know the rest of the parishes in the Diocese of Edmonton. We're off to a good start. I'm sure today's positive experience will be repeated many times as we explore our new diocese, magpies and all.

Room at the Inn

We shipped our belongings in two lots. I put our car on a train on December 21 and the house movers came on December 22 to take the rest of our belongings. Then, we found ourselves temporarily homeless. It's a funny feeling focusing on the story of Christmas, with the journey to Bethlehem and the story of no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph, while being at the same time temporarily without a home ourselves.

Of course, unlike Mary and Joseph we did find a room at a nearby inn. No stable for us. But as Christmas Eve approached, I found myself increasingly keyless. No more house keys – just the key card for our hotel room. And the car keys I had were for a rental. (And why, oh why, do North American car rental agencies insist on only renting cars with automatic transmission?) Keys are symbols of identity in many ways: the keys to my car; the keys to the place where I live; keys to my place of work. They are tokens of familiarity, of comfort and security. The last keys to let go were the Church keys, which I left on the desk before leaving late on Christmas night. It was the end of an era.

Boxing Day was spent checking out of one hotel, returning the rental car, catching a flight to Edmonton, then checking into another hotel. And the 27th we were able to pick up our keys to our new home. Our new home! We had bought a condo in Edmonton on a one-day real estate shopping blitz in November. Now it's ours, and we have keys again. Even without our furniture (which is still in transit as I write) it already feels like home. We have had some very kind offers of a place to stay until the furniture arrives. But how do I say that it's not that we're ungrateful, or that we don't want to stay with our new friends, but we really want to be in our own place – our first place – even though we're camped out here? People probably think we're mad, and we probably are a bit. I hope people don't think we're being ungrateful or rude, because that isn't the case, at least not intentionally. But there's something about just being together in our new home, getting to know our new neighbourhood. The movers will arrive, and we'll be able to populate our home with our possessions. But for now, we can enjoy the feeling of being homeowners. No more inns for a while.

The long goodbye

Since my appointment to the Diocese of Edmonton – and the implied departure from Montreal – was announced at the end of October, it seems I've spent a significant amount of time saying goodbye. Just about every meeting or event I attended from All Saints to Christmas involved, yet again, telling people I was leaving and saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye for two months is a difficult thing. Of course, each different group is usually hearing the news for the first time, although for me the news was getting rather less new each time. People were generally very kind. Some were surprised, most offered kind wishes for the move and for the future. And every time there would be someone who would say “Edmonton is cold.” Surprisingly, just about every group had some people who would tell me about having lived in Edmonton, or having family or friends who live here.

Some of the goodbyes were obvious. The announcement to the parish meant an extended period of finishing up and trying to help them to prepare for our departure. In a way it was funny preaching about a future that I would not be part of, but I felt it was necessary to help the parish focus on what is to come rather than dwell too much on what had been for the previous 12 years. I had to say goodbye to three other parishes as well. My parish had been in a long-term relationship collaborating with a nearby Lutheran parish. My counterpart there graciously offered to swap pulpits for a Sunday so I could take a last service in his congregation and say goodbye to them. Then there was a newly-arrived Romanian Orthodox congregation that had just started meeting in my Church. The day their priest was being formally installed was the first time I had been able to attend their service, and my opportunity to say goodbye. We had just started to get to know one another as clergy and congregations, and it was sad not to be able to pursue what had begun as a hopeful collaboration. Father Gabriel and I had begun to hit it off well, and it was sad to realize that we would not be able to build on a promising start to our relationship. The fourth parish to say goodbye to was an Indian Orthodox congregation that has been meeting at my Church for many years. Again, a long and special collaboration with priest and congregation. And although I couldn't take a service, they did kindly ask me to speak at their Christmas celebration. It was a farewell to old friends, to Daniel Achen, his lovely wife and their congregation.

There were final meetings with friends and colleagues, exit interviews with the bishop and archdeacon, and a farewell interview with the editor of the diocesan newspaper (who had first interviewed me a quarter of a century before for the local daily newspaper). There were lunches and dinners and meetings for coffee or a beer. And some not-really-last chance meetings with my daughters. There was a farewell reception for the parish. And we had final appointments with our doctor and cancelled upcoming appointments with our dentist. And of course we had to say goodbye to neighbours.

One funny sort of goodbye that I experienced was unknown to anyone else but myself, as I began to realize that I was going to a familiar place for the last time. Should I say goodbye to the cashier at the grocery store? To my usual barista? The waitress at our usual pub? The letter carrier? It's funny in all of these semi-anonymous interactions how one makes a connection even if we never get much beyond facial recognition and pleasantries.

Goodbyes were often a mixture of emotions. People always said kind things. Some presented gifts, generally quite unexpectedly and always thoughtfully. These stimulated happy feelings, and a sense of being appreciated and cared for. But there was also the feeling of sadness, not for the past, but for a future that we had always taken for granted and that was now gone.

There is, of course, a new future to look forward to, which I embrace, but more of that is really what this blog is about.

In the meantime, goodbye, Montreal. Au revoir.

About this blog

This is the chronicle of a Montrealer moving to Edmonton. Although I'm writing primarily for family and friends, other humans (and robots) might discover it, so allow me to introduce myself briefly.

I lived in Montreal for 31 years, the last 20 years as a priest in the Anglican DIocese of Montreal, then accepted a new job as Executive Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. My appointment took effect today, 1 January 2012, and my wife and I arrived in Edmonton on Boxing Day. Over the next several posts I'll talk about the process of making the transition to a new city and a new life. Hope you enjoy it.