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.