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"North of 60 Again"

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Note: I am late in writing this post as the trip occurred several months ago (July 2019).

A bit about "North of 60" 
This term is used as a mapping reference for the 60th parallel, which is a circle of latitude 60 degrees north of the Earth's equator. While it crosses, Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America and the Atlantic Ocean, the most common use of the term in Canada refers to the map boundary separating the three northern territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) from the four western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). 

During the first half of my professional career I had opportunities to travel "North of 60" when working for the CBC. The first of those trips was to Whitehorse, Yukon, which is where my love affair with Canada's North started.

Why go to Whitehorse again?

For most people who have visited Whitehorse, it is easy to understand why they would want to return. In addition to the natural beauty, warm and welcoming locals, and the Yukon's unique history, it is very satisfying opportunity to provide a "hand up" to a local family by helping on a Habitat for Humanity project. As was the case five years earlier, recruiting a group of people for my team was quick and easy compared to many locations. For most people on my three Habitat trips in the North, there is a strong attraction to seeing a part of the country they have not seen previously. There's no better place to start than Whitehorse! 

While our main focus was on five days of construction work, we had a day to settle in/get oriented to the city and surrounding area, and three days for cultural and tourist activities after the construction work was finished. I arrived in Whitehorse a day earlier than most other folks to have some time to relax and do a bit of personal exploring before my team leader responsibilities kicked in. 

The Habitat project 

Habitat Yukon has undertaken a number of house building projects over the years and we worked on the early construction stage of a four-unit townhouse row located in a residential area called Whistle Bend. This fairly new development started about five earlier and Habitat had previously constructed houses there. 

On our orientation day, we drove to the build site to get an idea of what to expect the following morning. Everyone was excited to get started and on the first morning, our initial activities included introductions with a few local Habitat people, a safety briefing, assignment of tasks and a land acknowledgement as a show of respect for the First Nations traditional territory in the area where we were working. The photo immediately below shows the view from where the land acknowledgement was done.

The overall project plan for the site is to construct a four-unit townhouse row with three units being new homes for Habitat families and the fourth unit being constructed to be sold at market price with any monetary gain above construction costs being used to support a future project.

The foundation of the townhouse row was in place when we arrived, so our efforts focused on the next stage that included: preparing the foundation/crawl space level for the installation of the main floor of all four houses so subsequent work could move to the main floor, second floor and roofing/trusses. Some task were messy as we work with tar to coat all of exterior foundation walls including seams and cracks - a critical stage to ensure the integrity of the structure for the severe northern climate. In addition, we installed insulation batts on the crawl space walls between units, wrapper the exterior foundation with rigid Styrofoam insulation, and carried our a myriad of other tasks (shovelling and moving a significant amount of sand/gravel around the foundation. At conclusion of our five days, the foundation was completely sealed for protection from water/moisture, the main floor on top of the foundation wall trusses almost entirely in place, and many other 'odds and ends." 

I had a great team who came to the build site every day ready to work hard while also enjoying the experience and working well together. As a team leader, it is always plesure to have a group of people who get along well and bring a positive attitude. These people know and understand what is involved with being a Habitat volunteer and are committed to each other as well as to giving a family a "hand up" to improve their housing situation. In the photo below the team is accompanied by the two local Habitat construction supervisors.

The wonderful weather (sunny and warm in the mid-20s C provided excellent conditions for working outside and for walking around Whitehorse in the evenings when the sunset is quite late at that time of year. The only negative aspect was smoky air moving into the area from forest fires in Alaska. 

It is a wonderful city to spend some time - downtown is along the Yukon River with mountains as a backdrop. Even with the smoky air we experienced, Whitehorse is one of Canada's beautiful places.

Whitehorse Main Street

McBride Museum

For those interested, the city has many shops and galleries to browse or for purchasing of local art, crafts and a wide array of souvenirs. For me, one of the "must stops" on all my trips to Whitehorse is Mac's Fireweed Books with the best selection of books about the North that I have seen.

There are many fine restaurants and all taste preferences can easily be satisfied in the Yukon capital. Here are just a few - Antoinette's (my favourite), Sanchez Cantina, and Klondike Rib and Salmon.

The McBride Museum is a great place to learn about Yukon  history and the many characters that are legendary. The Transportation Museum adjacent to the airport is much better than I expected and it tells about the important role of different forms of transportation played in the history and development of the territory. Just a few minutes away from downtown Whitehorse, a visit to Miles Canyon is well worth it. This is where the Yukon River narrows as it drops to flow through a hydro dam and on to the downtown area. We walked across a foot bridge at Miles Canyon that provides close views of the river. (Three photos below are of Miles Canyon.)

Exploring a bit of the Southern Yukon
Day 1:
On the morning after our last build day, we drove west from Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway for about 45 minutes and turned on to a gravel road to Kusawa Lake Park. Most of us went for a bit of a hike on one of the close mountains and were treated with spectacular views. It wasn't a long hike, however, as some of our group were not interested in the hike and I didn't want those people waiting a long time for the rest of us. 

Next we drove further west to Haines Junction for a mandatory stop at the bakery-café to refuel before visiting the Da Ku Cultural Centre where the Southern Tutchone and Tlingit cultures and languages are honoured. While this was a useful cultural experience, I would referred that we have more time there and for someone from the centre to speak to us about First Nations history in the area.

Day 2:

The following day, we drove north on the Klondike Highway a bit more than two hours past the town of Carmacks to Five Finger Rapids, which was one of the hazardous obstacles in the Yukon River on the gold rush route to the Klondike and Dawson City. Sternwheelers navigated through the narrowest channel of the rapids as they made their way along the river. Some people hiked from the parking lot to the rapids, but I stayed behind with the folks who were not interested in the hike (always difficult for me to turn down a hike). 

On the return drive, we stopped at the historic Braeburn Lodge for a break that included sharing among the group a few of the renowned plate-size cinnamon buns. The lodge is one of the official checkpoints on the 1000-mile sled dog race The Yukon Quest. The lodge's history includes being a hangout for a motorcycle gang in the southern Yukon!

Day 3:
On the last day in the Yukon (on this trip), we drove south of Whitehorse for about an hour to the town of Carcross. Formerly called Caribou Crossing, the town was an important place on the gold rush journey from Skagway, Alaska to the Klondike in Dawson City and area. Carcross is generally considered as the “hometown” of the Tagish and Tlinglit First Nation. The town of a bit more 300 people is where many talented Yukon artists display and sell their creations in a variety of shops on the Commons. I have visited Carcross a few times in the past and definitely would like to return.  


On the Klondike Highway before arriving in Carcross, we stopped to enjoy the view and take photos of beautiful Emerald Lake. 

First thing today, one of the member of the team headed off on another adventure and two others left us in Carcross to travel to Skagway before eventually driving to Calgary. For our final dinner, our group has shrunk to nine, but we had a wonderful evening of conversation, food and fine beverages. Seven of us headed homethe following day after what was a great nine 9 days. The Yukon definitely is “Larger Than Life.” To experience just a bit of that and also give “a hand up” through the Habitat project falls into the category of fantastic.

A bit of Yukon humour.

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Canada's Picture Province - 2018

Monday, 12 November 2018

Back to my roots
I was born and grew up in Canada's eastern province of New Brunswick, which until recent years had been promoted as Canada's "Picture Province." Not surprisingly, I am biased in thinking that New Brunswick is a great place to visit and spend time exploring - plenty of wilderness areas, beautiful rivers and lakes, quaint small towns, lots of history, warm welcome, rugged coast in places, beautiful sandy beaches, many hiking and cycling opportunities, tasty seafood, outdoor activities for all seasons, museums and much more. While the province has much to attract visitors, it does not do a good job of promoting its many attractions and seems to simply rely on capturing a bit of business from tourists who are driving through the province on their way to PEI or Nova Scotia. 

After graduating from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton in 1972, I left to do graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. Since grad school, I have lived in Ottawa, in the Toronto suburb of Pickering, a year in St. John's (Newfoundland), and most recently in Victoria for the past 25+ years. I have enjoyed living in all these places, but none more than Victoria. It is home now!! However, my roots are in New Brunswick and since leaving in 1972, I have returned virtually every year, sometimes two or three times a year, to visit family. On two occasions this year, I returned - one time to visit family and the other to lead a Habitat for Humanity team for a project on the Tobique First Nation reserve. On the later visit, I also played the role of tourist guide for a couple of friends and had some family time before returning to the west coast.

This post will be a mix of things - I hope you enjoy it. 

Campobello Island 
Over the years, I have visited many times with my brother and sister-in-law who live in the town of Rothesay near the city of Saint John. On many occasions, they have organized a bit of holiday to interesting places such as the beautiful seaside town of St. Andrew's. This time (late June/early July), they organized a few days on Campobello Island - a place I had never visited.

Campobello Island is a beautiful island off the coast of Maine, but is located in New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy. Much of the island's notoriety relates to it being where Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor Roosevelt would retreat to during the summer to get away from the demands of day-to-day lives. FDR and his family spent summer vacations on Campobello over a period of 56 years. FDR was a president of the US and Eleanor also had a remarkable life and made important contributions to humanity (more below).    

A significant part of the island is allocated to the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which is co-managed by the Canadian and US governments. The park's visitor centre emphasizes the long-term closeness and cooperation that exists between the countries and makes note of a shared heritage. We stopped at the Roosevelt estate for a coffee and also to purchase tickets for "Tea With Eleanor." I am not much into things like this, but was assured by my brother and sister-in-law that it would be well worthwhile and it sure was! Two women talked about the life and contributions of Eleanor while we were served with tea and cookies. Consider the following sample of positions she held:
  • First Lady of the US (1933-45)
  • First Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1946-52)
  • First US Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1947-53)
  • First Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (1961-62)
It was under her leadership that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created.

Campobello Island is a great example of unspoiled nature with breathtaking ocean and coastal views. The pace is slow and people are genuinely friendly. On the two evenings we were there, we went to Family Fisheries for dinner. Fantastic seafood and excellent service at a very reasonable price. Easily understandable why it receives a high rating by Trip Advisor. I hope to get back to Campobello and you can bet that Family Fisheries will be included.

 Roosevelt estate

Highly recommended

Habitat for Humanity Build at Tobique First Nation
When the opportunity to lead a Habitat for Humanity (HFH) trip to the Tobique First Nation (TFN), I immediately said "yes." TFN reserve is located where the Tobique empties into the St. John River adjacent to the town of Perth-Andover about 190 km north from the Fredericton. Most of my team arrived at the airport in Fredericton on Sept. 22 and we then drove by van to the motel in Grand Falls where we were staying. Once at the motel, we met the rest of the team who had traveled by their own cars. As a leader for trips like this, it is always good to have all the team together at our destination as they are from different parts of Canada and the journey varies from person to person.     

The motel was located about a 30-minute drive from the build site and overlooks a dam and gorge on the St. John River. The water level below the dam was very low in late September, but during the spring freshet the volume of water flowing through the gorge increases to about 90% of the water that flows over Niagara Falls. 

Grand Falls dam and gorge

The HFH affiliate in Fredericton is responsible for building projects in central-western region of the province. TFN and HFH Fredericton have formalized a partnership through a Memorandum of Understanding. The is the first indigenous home building partnership between a First Nation community and HFH in Atlantic Canada. The goal of the partnership is to enable more indigenous families to realize their dream of home ownership.

TFN build site 

We first drove to TFN reserve the day after arriving for an orientation session and lunch with a representative from the band council. We also had the opportunity to see the house we would be working on and drive around the community a bit. During the orientation, we learned a great deal of about TFN, its history and many of the initiatives and programs currently under way. TFN is one of six Maliseet (also referred to as Wolastoqiyik) reserves in the province; it is also the largest of the reserves with a population of about 2,500. The orientation included a walking tour around a site used for powwows, including a long house and sweat lodge. The orientation was excellent preparation for our week there. The following photos are from the powwow grounds. The structure in the third photo would be covered with tree branches and boughs and used as a long house during powwows.

For the week we were there, we worked on a bungalow style house with a full basement. When we arrived on site, the exterior walls and roofing were covered with OSB sheathing and a small amount of interior framing on the first floor was started. My team completed the main floor framing (all rooms and closets), installed the strapping on the ceiling so it would be ready for drywall installation. We started framing the exterior walls in the basement, helped install a stairway to the basement and worked with four local professionals on a number of other things. Working with the local people was a highlight for all of us. Beyond the people we worked with, we met others in the community and engaged in many positive interactions.

Only boots - no one attached!

Near the end of our final day, we were visited at the build site by a group of about 10-12 teens who are actively involved with making important contributions to their community. It is encouraging to see these young people engaged in efforts to help others in their age group and support the community as a whole. 

Bridge across St. John River in Perth-Andover we crossed every day 

TFN is located along the St. John River in the area on right side of the photo and beyond

One evening, we participated in a Blanket Exercise - a session that informed us about many of the impacts of colonialization on Maliseet people including Tobique First  Nation. For many of us on the team, this was the most impactful cultural experience. This is an effective educational tool using a participatory approach designed to raise awareness of the nation-to-nation relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada. It teaches a history of Canada that most people do not learn and initiates conversations about the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples. The exercise begins with the blankets arranged on the floor to represent Canada before the arrival of Europeans and indigenous people were using the land. We were then placed on the blankets to represent European settlers. A narrator reads from a script that traces the history of the relationship between indigenous people and settlers in Canada. Participants representing indigenous people respond to various cues and read prepared scrolls. By the end of the exercise only a few people remain on the blankets, which have been folded into much smaller bundles and cover only a fraction of the original area used by indigenous people. The Blanket Exercise is a succinct overview of indigenous rights in Canada and an important step for reconciliation. Following the exercise we shared our personal perspectives on what we had just experienced as well as other thoughts, perceptions and experiences with indigenous people. Each one of us was impacted in a unique way and during our time at TFN many of us spoke about how the exercise affected us. Along with the orientation session on our first visit to TFN, these activities provided us with much to reflect on regarding the effects of colonisation and our individual and our relationships with indigenous people.

After work one day later in the week, we drove south to the town of Hartland for people to see the world's longest covered bridge. We drove through the bridge in our vans and then walked across the bridge and back before heading back to our motel and dinner. While I have been across the bridge, it's always a fun thing to do. 

As our time at TFN came to an end, we gathered as a team with the four local men we had worked with throughout the week for photos and to say our farewells. After returning to the motel and getting cleaned up, we were hosted for a farewell dinner by the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Fredericton at what is likely the best restaurant in Grand Falls - the Grand Saut.

Team and local guys 

Location of our farewell dinner

The next morning, we departed the motel around 8:00 am in order to get people back to the Fredericton airport for their flights and to return the rental vans. 

There are many positive things happening at TFN and it was an honour to provide "a hand up" to a local family to improve their housing situation. A couple of weeks after returning home to Victoria, it was good to hear that work on the house had progressed well and it is anticipated that the family (single mom with two children) would be able to move in before Christmas. 

Being a tour guide
I had a couple of friends on the HFH team to Tobique First Nation who were interested in exploring some of New Brunswick after the build. So, being originally from NB, I was pleased to plan a bit of a road trip to show them around. After dropping others off at the airport, I picked up a different rental vehicle and my two friends and I were on our way. The first destination was to drive to where I grew up and show them around a bit. When in that area, we stopped at the cemetery where my parents were laid interred, which is something I always do to pay them my respect. Then, we stopped at the cemetery for the 42nd Highland Regiment, which is where my first Fraser ancestor (Thomas Fraser) to arrive in New Brunswick is buried. 

After getting back into Fredericton, we had lunch at the Sunshine Dinner for lunch - not fancy, but large portions of good food. It receives a 4 out of 5 rating from Trip Advisor - not too shabby!

Our next stop was downtown Fredericton, where we walked around a bit in the beautiful sunny weather before visiting the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, among the best small galleries in Canada. It has impressive art holdings including a well-known piece by Salvador Dali. 

Provincial legislature

Looking out from inside the art gallery 

Looking out from inside the art gallery 


The next morning, we drove up the St. John River a short distance before we turned off and headed west with our destination being McAdam, a small town of about 1,200 people in about 10 km from the Canada-US border and the state of Maine. Why McAdam? The small town's history was first based on lumbering and then in the late 1800s it became a significant rail centre in western New Brunswick thanks to the efforts and investments of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).  In 1900, CPR undertook an ambitious project to build a large rail station and hotel in McAdam. The initial project was completed in 1901 and then was expanded a decade later. The station-hotel became a dominant presence in the community. For many years, the rail line through McAdam was part of a transcontinental route. By the 1960s, however, the importance of McAdam as a rail centre was waning. In 1978, CPR transferred operation of its passenger service to Via Rail Canada and a few years later Via Rail canceled the passenger service through the town. In 1995, CPR closed the station and sold its rail lines to New Brunswick Southern Railway. Since then, ownership of the station has been turned over to the local historical society in McAdam. A variety of photos of and inside the station.

Office in the station 

Hotel area of station that is being renovated 

Map showing CPR rail lines in central-western New Brunswick
McAdam was a rail hub at one time

The station was designated as a National Historic Site in 1976 and a Provincial Historic Site in 2003. The historical society offers guided tours of the station and is in the process of renewing the hotel section of the building. A highlight of our visit was "Railway Pie." It's origin goes back to the early 1900s when a story appeared in a Boston newspaper describing McAdam station as being famous for its many varieties of "railway pie." On Sunday afternoons from 1:00-4:00 pm (July 1-end of September), this is a very popular event with locals and visitors alike. Because it is so popular, many local people stop by to get their pie as a take out. For those wanting to have their pie on site, it is served in the 1950s lunch counter which seems to be unchanged from its original days. From a list of 24 tasty options, you can make your selection and dig into a large, thick slice of fresh homemade pie. Funds raised from selling "railway pie" are used to support the restoration of the station. I had a slice of pecan pie and it was delicious!

Railway pie selections 

When I was younger, our family drove past the station many times, but never stopped. The tour was a highlight for me and I am grateful to get there on the last day for tours and "railway pie" in 2018.

From McAdam, we backtracked a few km and then drove through rolling hills and beautiful scenery to the seaside tourist town of St. Andrew's. I should note that the fall tree colours were just starting to get to their peak beauty! I have not seen the such beautiful fall colours since leaving Ontario more than 25 years ago. 

We stayed at the well-known Rossmount Inn overnight, but decided to explore St. Andrew's before checking in.  St. Andrew's is a beautiful seaside town with many heritage buildings and is a popular destination for people in New Brunswick and even more so with people from the New England states of the US. It has many good restaurants, lodging and shops. It is not large and it is easy to see most of the town within a few hours. Its most renown lodging is at the Algonquin Hotel, which is now operated by the Marriott chain. Originally it was one of the classic Canadian Pacific hotels. Other than tourism, the local economy relies on fishing and various small businesses.

The Rossmount is a few km outside of town and sits majestically part way up a hill overlooking the ocean. The inn is a three-story manor house on an 87-acre estate set between forest and the sea. The property includes Chamcook Mountain, the highest point in Passamaquoddy Bay and provides views of the coast of Maine. During the afternoon, one of my friends and I walked to the top of Chamcook Mountain for the views - spectacular beauty. I had done this before when visiting the Rossmount with my brother and sister-in-law, but it was not during the fall colours.

Start of the trail behind the inn 

One view from top of Chamcook Mountain

The Rossmount is appealing to foodies as it provides a top-quality dining experience both in terms of food and service. We had an extremely enjoyable evening. 

Starting to wind down for another day

The next morning, we had a great breakfast and then continued our road trip along the Fundy coast to the city of Saint John where we stopped to visit the New Brunswick museum and lunch. Before getting to the museum, however, we made a short stop at Reversing Falls. A bit later when on our way to Moncton, we diverted to the town of St. Martin's and on to the Fundy Trail, which is part of Fundy National Park. Unfortunately, our time along the trail was limited, but I was able to show my friends some of the incredible scenery in this part of the province. One of my friends was flying out of Moncton early the following morning, which is why we stayed overnight there.

From the hotel in Moncton, we started the journey back to Fredericton with plenty of time to make the journey. The first diversion was the town of Alma, which is the main entry point for Fundy National Park. It is a quaint little town on the coast with a handful or shops, an array of services and some fine eating establishments. Not fancy, but good quality food.

 Another craft brewery in NB

Brewery in a church

After getting back on the Trans Canada highway, the next stop was to show my friend the beautiful hand-crafted furniture and smaller wooden items made by Brent Rourke. I have never seen more beautiful hand-crafted furniture.

With the end of the day, my tour guide responsibilities concluded too. It was a very early start the next morning to take my friend to the airport and then I had two days to relax and also visit with my sister and brother-in-law and a cousin. 



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