A Canary Flies North: A Night and a Day in Unforgettable Quebec City, Canada!

The Chateau Frontenac, situated within the Old City of Quebec, is a sight to behold from any vantage point in the area.

The Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, situated within the Old City of Quebec  is a sight to behold from any vantage point in the area. This photo was taken on the expansive  and historic Terrasse ‘Boardwalk’.

After my pleasant train journey on VIA Rail from Montreal, I arrived in Quebec City on a lovely warm Sunday afternoon in late

So many talented artists display their creations and sell them on La Rue Des Artisans, a short walk from the. Chateau Frontenac

So many talented people display their creations and sell them on La Rue Des Artisans, a short walk from the. Chateau Frontenac. I was not allowed to photograph their work, so an artist took my picture instead!

June.  A taxi collected me and we drove a short distance through pedestrian congested streets to a special holiday treat for my overnight: the world-famous five-star Chateau Frontenac!  No, I did not win the Canadian lottery, but I did have enough travel points accumulated to be able to ‘afford’ this luxurious stop-over.   I only additionally paid for breakfast and I relished every minute of my stay there.  This historic hotel, which was originally built in the 19th century  on the site of an ancient military fort, deserves every distinction as the ultimate accommodation. I don’t think I could ever do better than that – except to save enough points for two nights next time!

When I checked in, I was immediately informed that my room had been upgraded!  I looked at the clerk quizzically and explained: “But I am not paying for this room, it is through travel points.”

My river view room had a window that opened and fresh breezes off of the water - just perfect for someone who dislikes A/C!

My river view room had a window that opened for fresh breezes off of the water – just perfect for someone who cannot tolerate A/C and air tight buildings!

She smiled as she informed me that there was a river view room available, so instead of looking inland at the architecture of old city (equally appealing!), I would be able to look over the

I was looking up to see if I could figure out which window belonged to my room in the elegant Chateau Frontenac.  I think I did know at the time

I was looking up to see if I could figure out which window belonged to my room in the elegant Chateau Frontenac. I think I did know at the time.

 "In 1944, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac became the action center of the Quebec Conferences of World War II, which involved U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King." This historic photo recalls a time when these world leaders were strategizing the end WWII - at this same hotel!

“In 1944, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac became the action center of the Quebec Conferences of World War II, which involved U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.” This historic photo recalls a time when these world leaders were discussing strategies to end WWII!

Boardwalk and the St. Lawrence River! I appreciated this welcoming gesture and was further charmed when a pleasant bell-hop brought my bags to the room by service elevator.  When he came in, he explained every feature of the tastefully decorated room – in French, when he discovered that I could speak the language. (Both English and French are capably spoken by tourism industry workers in Quebec City).  I unpacked a little and freshened up, but I was eager to hit the streets. I had not been to this Belle Ville for over 20 years, and that had been in mid-winter – at that time of year the river breeze is frigid and less conducive to a leisurely stroll unless all bundled up!  Mind you, I have been here several times in my younger years, thanks to my parents, who usually stopped  for the night when we were driving to Nova Scotia in summertime, There were a few other forays, with my high school French class and my brother Marc, to name a few.  I can’t remember off-hand, but I am sure my brothers will remind me if I ever went downhill skiing at nearby Mont Ste. Anne – maybe we just went to have a look in summertime.  Or maybe they slalomed without me!

The winter winds may be frigid, but there is plenty to do to keep warnm during Quebec City's annual winter 'Carnavl', which takes place just before Lent, just like Dominica.  This 'Bonhomme' invites you to discover this unique winter celebration, which is full of fun!  (i've been there - it is that, and more!)

The winter winds may be frigid, but there is plenty to do to keep warm during Quebec City’s annual winter ‘Carnaval’, which takes place  before Lent, just like Dominica. Above, ‘Bonhomme‘ invites you to experience this unique winter celebration, which is full of fun! (I’ve been there, and can vouch  for good times to be had!)

A beautiful street scene - don't you agree?

A beautiful street scene – don’t you agree?

As I wandered around the quaint narrow streets, dodging occasional vehicles (along with thousands of other visitors), I admired the beautiful buildings that had been proudly restored.  Quebec City had celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008 and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Samuel de Champlain, the father of new France, founded Quebec City in 1608.  It was orignally called Kebec, an Aboriginal word that means 'where the river narrows.'

Samuel de Champlain, the’ Father of New France’, founded Quebec City in 1608. It was originally called Kebec, an indigenous Algonquin word that means ‘ the river narrows here.’

I could easily see why – as it is the only city in North America that has preserved its buildings to represent ‘a fortified city of the colonial era.’  While the little lanes were packed with tourists, I did not see any garbage or  other forms of detritus about. Every park, lane-way, monument,  house, restaurant, hotel and sidewalk was immaculate and totally litter-free.  What an example for other cities to follow!

I also strolled along La Terrasse (Boardwalk)  until it merged into la Promenade des Gouveneurs.  I walked up the steps, admiring the river views until I came to

The Promenade des Gouveneurs ascends to the grounds of the Quebec Citadelle

The Promenade des Gouveneurs ascends to the grounds of the Quebec Citadelle from the scenic river view walkway.

the grounds of the historic Quebec Citadelle, a Parks Canada site. I covered a good portion of the grounds but did not go inside this time, nor did I venture over to the notable Plains of Abraham where Wolfe (eng) and Montcalm  (fre)battled it out in 1759 and both died as a result of fatal injuries. The French surrendered at that time.  But you can read a  Canadian history book to find out more!

It was getting late (for me) and as I hadn’t eaten any dinner, I popped into a creperie around 8 p.m for a light meal.  A folk singer performed some easy listening oldie goldies in English and

The Creperie is actually situated on a patio behind the entrance way.  It was lovely!

The Creperie is actually situated on a patio behind the entrance way. It was lovely!

French on his  guitar, which complemented the casual but congenial ambience of the outdoor patio.   Again, it was only a few steps from the hotel.  I could feel fatigue coming on, so I quickly savoured my egg/onion crêpe and headed back to the Chateau Frontenac.  There, I slept very well on a supremely comfortable bed!

Next morning, after a huge breakfast in my room, I decided that a walking tour would give me a little more background on this fascinating city. I did take a tour in English with a group of Americans who had arrived by cruise ship.  Robert, our guide plied us with so much information that I truly regretted not having brought my voice recorder!  What I am now left with are impressions, and the need to re-read that Canadian history book to reinforce what I heard on this sensational two-hour walk around town.

We covered quite a bit of ground, and a few of the principle sites of the city include the following in photos:

The old part of the  city is confined by walls or ramparts, as seen in this photo.

The old part of the city is surrounded by walls or ramparts, as seen in this photo.

I had recently read about Marie de l'Incarnation, who came to quebec City in 1639, founded the Ursuline Order right here, as well as teh first school for girls.  She was an exceptional woman!

I had recently read about Marie de l’ Incarnation, who came to Quebec City in 1639, founded the Ursuline Order right here, as well as the first school for girls. She was an exceptional woman!

The Quebec Parliament sits here and faces the pretty Tourny Fountain.

The Quebec Parliament sits here and faces the pretty Tourny Fountain.

The entrance to the Girls' School and Ursuline Order.

The entrance to the Girls’ School and the Ursuline Order.

The Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral/Basilica is a sight/site to behold and is a testament to the strong longstanding Catholic religious practice in Quebec.foundation

The Notre Dame de Quebec Cathedral/Basilica is a sight/site to behold and is a testament to the strong foundation of Catholic religious practice in Quebec.

The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1804 and was teh first of its kind to be built outside of the British Isles! There is definitely an Anglophone influence in this church!

The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1804 and was the first of its kind to be built outside of the British Isles! There is definitely an Anglophone influence in this church!

Robert, my walking tour guide and I parted here as I had to check out of the hotel.  I left after he had described this site, which was a seminary/boys' school originally established by  Laval, the first Bishop of Neew France. The Seminary became  University of Laval in 1852.

Robert, my walking tour guide and I parted here as I had to check out of the hotel. I left after he had described this site, which was a seminary/boys’ school that he had attended. It was originally established by Francois de Laval, the first Bishop of New France in 1663. The Seminary section became University of Laval in 1852.

On the tour, I encountered a place I visited in 1976 when I visited Quebec with my French class for Carnaval in mid-winter.  Aux Anciens Canadiens is a well established traditional Quebecois restaurant in the heart of the old city.

On the tour, I encountered a place where I ate a warm meal on a very cold night in 1976 when I visited Quebec with my high school French class for Carnaval in mid-winter. Aux Anciens Canadiens is a well established traditional Québécois restaurant in the heart of the old city.

Aux Anciens Canadiens is the site of the oldest existing house in Quebec City.  It's been there since 1677!

Aux Anciens Canadiens is on the site of the oldest existing house in Quebec City. It’s been there since 1677!

After I checked out (late – with the gracious hotel staff’s permission!), I left my baggage in a safe storage room behind the desk of the concierge.  By then, my big breakfast had worn off and my feet were worn out from Robert’s comprehensive tour.  Guess where I went for lunch? Aux Anciens Canadiens, of course, for a repeat gastronomic experience after a 38 year absence! Although it was mid-summer and not mid-winter,  I still consumed all the filling courses, but for only $20.00 CAD, I wouldn’t need another meal that day!  I started with Quebec Pea Soup, which was followed by stuffed slices of duck in a divine  fruit sauce with tender-crisp vegetables and a healthy serving of mashed/baked potatoes.

My incredible lunch at Aux Anciens Canadiens.

My incredible lunch at Aux Anciens Canadiens.

I love this mural - which is very realistic in its presentation.

I love this mural – which is very realistic in its presentation.

Then I found room , somewhere, for a gigantic slice of sugar pie with whipped cream (tarte au sucre).

My delightful server presented me with what looked like two servings of sugar pie!  No, I did not leave any on the plate...

My delightful server presented me with what looked like two servings of sugar pie! No, I did not leave any on the plate…

I really did roll down to the Old Port (Vieux-Port), below the Old City’s walls after that.  The steep uphill return was difficult because I was so overstuffed.  But I do NOT regret it – that was traditional Quebec dining at its finest with a price that could not be compared with anywhere else!

By now, it was mid afternoon – I was hot and felt very sluggish, but I am glad I took some  time to see a few more points of interest.  Then I spent the rest of the day and into the evening lounging in little parks, gazing at the river from the Boardwalk and later sitting in comfy chairs in the lounge at Chateau Frontenac.  Around 8 p.m., I collected my gear, picked up a taxi and headed to the Palais du Gare (train station) where I waited for a bus to take me across the St. Lawrence River to connect with the famous Ocean train, which would depart around 10:30 p.m.  and carry me for the next 20 hours all the way to Halifax Nova Scotia!

Down by the harbour, the cruise shippers could easy take in many of the attractions of the Old Port and a little higher up, the Old City.

From the harbour, the cruise shippers can easily walk to many of the attractions of the Old Port and a little higher up, the Old City.

The Vieu Port or Old Port section of the city is charming and beautifully restored.  They are many specialty shops and cute cafes in this area.

The Vieux-Port or Old Port section of the city is charming and beautifully restored. They are many specialty shops and cute cafes in this area.

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A Canary Flies North: Family, Friends and Rides on the Rails between Toronto and Quebec City, Canada

Toronto's statuesque CN Tower stand out clearly against the beautiful blue backdrop on a perfect Sunday in June.

Toronto’s landmark CN Tower stands out clearly against the beautiful blue backdrop on a perfect Sunday in June.

I enjoyed my daily dose of fresh raw foods at Rawlicious on Brock St. in Whitby for the week I was in the area. Pcitured here  are soft tacos with side salad.  Every item on the menu is gluten, dairy and refined sugar free.

I enjoyed my daily dose of fresh raw organic foods at Rawlicious on Brock St. S. in Whitby  Ontario for the week I was in the area. Pictured here are soft tacos with side salad. Every item on the menu is gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free. Their lemonade is one to beat! The meals were creatively prepared and tasted divine.

When I finally arrived in Toronto (right after a tornado had touched down just north of the city), I was mildly shocked by the cooler, damp weather.  By the next morning, the clear skies and strong sunshine indicated lower levels of pollution and I felt relatively well in this industrialized, highly populated area.

I regained my Canadian bearings in Whitby, a pretty city with tree-lined streets  about an hour east of Toronto.  As I attended to medical and other personal matters there,  I appreciated the friendliness of the people and an organic restaurant near a conveniently located small motel called The Lucien.  It is a family run business and I am a repeat guest over a several years.  The rooms are clean, quiet and unscented per my special request.  I don’t need a car there as everything is within walking distance or can be accessed by a regular bus system.

When my business had been completed, I headed down the highway for a special event:

my one and only nephew’s graduation from Grade Eight!  In the Canadian system, this is the educational milestone one achieves before continuing on to four years of secondary school.

I was a very proud auntie indeed, as my young relative received top awards for science, geography and for his exceptional contribution to school music activities.  The biggest surprise was his distinction as class valedictorian, and he delivered the address in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French.

Nephew Dallin the Grade 8 Graduate with his proud Auntie before the ceremony and the valedictory surprise.

Nephew Dallin the Grade 8 Graduate with his proud Auntie before the ceremony and the valedictory surprise. Photo taken by Mum Sharon.

Dallin and his sister Mara after the graduation ceremny - my two pride and joys.  Mara is in her last year of high school and is an outstanding scholar and musician too.

Dallin and his sister Mara after the graduation ceremony – my two pride and joys. Mara is in her last year of high school and is an outstanding scholar and musician too. They are the lovely children of my brother Marc and his wife Sharon.

I’ll just say, that with the bit of extra noise that I generated during the applause after his speech, everyone knew that I was ‘related’ to the young graduate!

Brother Edwin and Sis-in-law Beth get ready to to have a little birthday feast with me.  This delectable cheesecake was purchased at  the renowned Mariposa Market in Orillia, about 1 1/2 hours north of Toronto.

Brother Edwin and Sis-in-law Beth got ready to have a little birthday feast with me. This delectable cheesecake was purchased at the renowned Mariposa Market in Orillia, about 1 1/2 hours north of Toronto.

Then I was off to visit my other brother and his wife. Edwin and Beth had met and married since I was last in Canada, so it was another joyful occasion.  It was a delight to meet this lovely woman, and to get better acquainted.  We had plenty to celebrate, as I was there between both of their birthdays . I surprised them with a delectable summer fruit cheesecake from the renowned Mariposa bakery about a half hour north of their city.  They in turn spoiled me with all kinds of treats and meals. We parted with assurances that we would meet again in a few weeks time, after my trip to Nova Scotia for Aunt Vivian’s milestone 90th birthday.

While I was in the Orillia area, I took time for an all important face-to-face appointment with my longtime naturopathic physician, Shawna Clark, N.D.  We consult regularly by phone, but there were a few tests that required my physical presence.  This helped tremendously with my ongoing treatment of environmental-based health challenges.  Shawna has helped me enormously to have an improved quality of life over the past 18+ years.  Her professional assistance has been invaluable to me and I do not know what I would do without her highly trained, professional, complementary

After a delcious lunch at Apple Annies, friend and naturopath Shawna Clark, N.D. took me on a tour of Mariposa Market in Orillia Ontario.

After a delicious lunch at Apple Annies, friend and naturopath Shawna Clark, N.D. took me on a tour of the Mariposa Market in Orillia Ontario.

medical knowledge and  techniques.

Between all the above-mentioned visits, I spent one day in the big city of Toronto expressly to visit a friend from Dominica who had returned to Canada a few years earlier.  I had promised John in our Christmas correspondence some months earlier that we would get-together this time so I could bring him up-to-speed on the latest news on the Nature Island.

The GO transit systme is a great way to get around the Greater Toronto areas - it's convenient, economical and ecological!

The GO transit system is a great way to get around the Greater Toronto area – it’s convenient, economical and ecological!

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I took the GO train into downtown Toronto from Whitby and arrived at Union Station, not far from the CN Tower, just before midday.  John met me across busy , congested and construction-clogged Front Street.We headed to Le Marche, a cosmopolitan eatery nearby for a freshly prepared delicious lunch and an intensive two-hour chat. As I provided John with my latest perspectives on my  life as an expat in Dominica, he filled me in on his forays and projects.  It was no surprise when he informed me that he was writing a book because he has “had an unusual life.“

From John`s condo, the southerly Toronto skyline beyond St. James Cathedral portrays urban beauty at its finest in this booming metropolis.

From John`s condo, the southerly Toronto skyline beyond St. James Cathedral portrays urban beauty at its finest in this booming metropolis.

I won’t give anything away, but I can’t wait to read it.

John Carson is a nonagenarian with boundless energy and a brilliant mind.  He spent about 25 years of his life in Dominica, with his wife Renie.

John is a nonagenarian with boundless energy and a brilliant mind. He spent more than 25 years of his life in Dominica with his late wife, Renee.

John is the kind of person who carries through with all of his goals.  All best wishes, John!

I think this is the VIA Rail train station in Kingston Ontario - my hometown.  You'll ave to excuse me -over the course of a few days and many kilometers,  I passed by quite a few!

I think this is the VIA Rail train station in Kingston Ontario – my hometown. You’ll have to excuse me if I am wrong: over the course of a few days and hundreds of kilometers, I passed by a few!

After all my pleasant meetings in central and eastern Ontario, it was time to go’ down east’.  On a clear Saturday morning, I boarded a VIA Rail train in Oshawa, just east of Toronto, en route to Quebec City where I would overnight before hopping aboard The Ocean to continue my rail  journey to Halifax, on the east coast.  It was a pleasant trip to Montreal, where I had one hour in between trains before the next departure to Quebec City.  My only complaint is that I was not aware that baggage could no longer be checked.  As such, I had to hoist my 20+ kilo suitcase on to the raised platform with minimal assistance.  In doing so, I twisted my back and coped with the pain for the rest of my Canadian visit.  Fortunately, I had visited my Canadian chiropractor, Dr. Leanne Bruni ,D.C. in Whitby  the day before, and she had set me straight.  Perhaps it is good that I had been adjusted before the start of the journey, otherwise it could have been much worse!

On the way to Montreal, I engaged in conversation with a young man who was sitting beside me.  He was returning from a quick overnight visit to Toronto to take in some of the World Pride events. I quickly discovered that he is a heavy metal musician with roots in jazz and classical.  From our discussion, he also disclosed that he was raised in two cultures with a French-Canadian mother and an English Canadian father – a genuine ‘Canuck’ if there ever was one! Although he looked the part of his style of music (body piercings, spiked hair etc.), he was a real gentleman – and even carried my heavy bag off of the train in Montreal! I have long ago learned not to judge people by their outward appearance – genuine souls reside in all guises!

The train transfer in Montreal was smooth and easy.  I also started to practise my French!  At first, I was a little shy, but it became easier during my two-day stay in Quebec.  You’ll hear more about it in subsequent posts.  I hope I will have made my French teachers at Alliance Francaise de la Dominique proud!

I really enjoyed day dreaming and watching the clouds, as well as  the verdant, varied  scenery that passed by my window.  Occasionally, I worked on my new mini-tablet.  Although the train rocked from side to side, thereby making my eyes and hands jiggle as I familiarized with this device, I quickly adapted.  Below are some shots from my train window.

Next post: A Night  and Day in Beautiful Quebec City!

DSCF2436

This is Canada along the flat lands above eastern Lake Ontario near the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Eastern Ontario Summer Sky.

Eastern Ontario summer sky.

An eastern Ontario town - Brockville, perhaps.

An eastern Ontario town – Brockville, perhaps.

Montreal skyline and greenery.

Montreal skyline and greenery.

Taking in the hay at a large farm between Montreal and Quebec City.

Taking in the hay at a large farm between Montreal and Quebec City.

Abundant crop and dairy farms dotted the landscape along the St. Lawrence River Valley.

Abundant crop and dairy farms dotted the landscape along the St. Lawrence River Valley.

Although not far from Quebec City, the trained passed through some dense forest with sparkling little rivers.

Although not far from Quebec City, the train passed through some dense forest with sparkling little rivers.

This pretty Quebec country house had a 'traditional 'habitant' look to it.

This pretty Quebec country house had a ‘traditional ‘habitant’ look to it.

 

 

 

A Canary Flies South to go North: Beautiful Barbados: Beaches, Bargains and Best Friends

It  seemed incredible that three years had passed since I had ventured off of Dominica (with the exception of a day trip to Marie-Galante, French West Indies). A long-awaited trip to Canada was about to unfold for a special celebration: my aunt’s 90th birthday in Nova Scotia!  There were other fun things to do and  special people to see as well.  You’ll read more about it all in subsequent posts.

Air Canada at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados . Time for me to board that plane and fly north for the summer.

Air Canada at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados . Time for me to board that plane and fly north for the summer.

A little challenge in living on this lovely tropical island of Dominica is its lack of direct flights to North America.  I have always opted to fly to Barbados and overnight there before taking Air Canada to Toronto the next day.  I could get to Canada in one day ( if flights are on time and luggage arrives on the same flight) but I find that it is more relaxing to enjoy this popular tourist destination which is historically a Canadian favourite.  It is completely different from the Nature Island – except for the friendly people found in both locales.

To start the journey, I flew on a direct one hour  flight south on LIAT.  The only downside for this canary is the mandatory

Barbados has loads of pretty white sand beaches all over the island.

Barbados has loads of pretty white sand beaches all over the island.

regulation that planes be ‘dis-insected’ (sprayed) just before take-off. I carry a charcoal-filtered cotton mask and a wet face-cloth.  I also cover myself in long pants and sleeves and wear a scarf to put over my head.  I also take homeopathic remedies prescribed by my longtime Canadian naturopath, Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. to help counter the ill-effects of those chemicals.

Since 2009, I have stayed at the Butterfly Beach Hotel,

DSCF2361 which is about midway between the airport and Bridgetown, the capital city.  It is a pretty hotel, modestly priced (ca. $100. USD per night) and has a lovely bar/restaurant ocean-side with entertainment and a Caribbean buffet on Monday nights. (I always seem to be there on that particular day).  It’s quiet and comfortable, with friendly staff.  The peaceful setting certainly suits my in-transit status for a one night layover.

View from my room at Butterfly Beach Hotel.  Fresh breezes and salt air!

View from my room at Butterfly Beach Hotel. Fresh breezes and salt air!

Of course, on the outbound journey, I was eager to leave the Caribbean for points north and my Canadian adventures.  I had hoped to meet longtime friends, David and John, Canadian expats who are presently living in Barbados.  Unfortunately, David had a meeting on my pre-departure night, so we rescheduled our rendez-vous for the evening of my return journey.

Fast forward five weeks, and I am back in beautiful Barbados again.  This time, it’s mid-July and there are sales galore in the city.  But first, a few important priorities: an almost-immediate sea bath after check-in at Butterfly Beach Hotel. Then a dinner get-together with David and John.  I was glad to have enough time to take a dip before they came to pick me up.  I had just experienced an unanticipated insecticide exposure on Air Canada about 15 minutes before landing .  I had no idea that they had begun this practise, I assume according to Barbadian regulations, as a method of insect control.  Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne illness was slowly creeping into this country.  By now, the pronounced effects of this disease were being felt throughout all the other islands – no exceptions.  Unfortunately for me, I was not prepared with mask or homeopathics.  I grabbed a scarf in my bag to cover my nose and mouth, closed my eyes, held my breath for as long as I could, and hoped for the best!

David (l) and John are two of my oldest and best friends.  I firts met David in 1977, when we were first year students in the School of Music at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario. He could tell you a few stories about me...

David (l) and John are two of my longtime lifetime friends. I met David in 1977,  on the first day of first year as students in the School of Music at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. He could tell you a few stories about me.  He’s done it before!

I was somewhat refreshed after half an hour of bouncing around in the strong Atlantic surf.  There was little time to spare as I dressed up for a long overdue get-together with longtime friends, David and John.  They were even early (typical Canadians!) and I hastened to meet them outside of the hotel.  After greetings and hugs, we headed off to Champers, an exclusive restaurant on the outskirts of Bridgetown.  We were seated on the expansive oceanfront porch, with  crashing waves providing background sound.  We delayed looking at the menu as we were so engrossed in catching each other  up on  the past  few years of our lives. It was a very leisurely meal, as we talked away about life events between bites.  My friends had settled easily into their newly adopted country and were really enjoying it.  John, an interior designer, had recently joined the Barbados National Trust and had been intrigued by a recent  presentation from Dominica’s Lennox Honychurch, PhD about the restoration of Fort Shirley in the Cabrits National Park.  I then urged them to come and see it (along with me!) for themselves.

I can see why this dining establishment has a superb reputation.  The tables were all filled, even though it was a Monday night.  I followed David’s lead with a savory Caesar Salad, followed by Cajun Mahi-Mahi.  It was sensational – only mildly spicy which suited me fine. I further indulged in dessert: coconut pie with coconut ice cream and tea. My five-pound weight gain was well deserved!

After our pleasant reunion, they dropped me back at the hotel where I enjoyed a good night’s sleep.  As my LIAT flight to Dominica was not until 2 p.m., I decided to take the bus to Bridgetown and have a look around for a couple of hours in the morning.

Unfortunately, I hopped on the wrong bus, and as I did not ask the driver where to stop for the capital city, I overshot it.  Fortunately, I asked the passenger beside me when we about 10 minutes longer than what I thought the drive should have been.  He and some other riders kindly gave me quick instructions to get turned around and back on track.  The bus was packed with people and I am sure I stepped on a few toes as I squeezed through the congested aisle.  However, I made sure to loudly thank everyone for their help.

It's called Bridgetown for good reason!

It’s called Bridgetown for good reason!

Another short bus ride, with specific directions to notable landmarks found me in the centre of the bustling city a few minutes later. I was amazed at the hustle and bustle on the narrow streets and I soon came to realize  the reason for commotion on what I thought would be a quiet summer Tuesday.  While there were not many tourists about, I noticed that the stores were filling with eager shoppers.  Yes indeed, it was sale time on that fair isle!  I had read about the famous Cave Shepherd Mall, but honestly, I was ‘shopped out’ from my five-week foray in Canada. My dollars were now scarce and I did not dare to venture inside.  That is on my agenda for next time!

Cave Shepherd Mall on Broad Street seemed to be offering bargains galore in downtown Bridgetown.

Cave Shepherd Mall on Broad Street seemed to be offering bargains galore in its duty-free shops in downtown Bridgetown.

The Bridgetown Boardwalk is a pleasant (but hot!) stroll a few steps from the busy commercial centre.

The Bridgetown Boardwalk is a pleasant (but hot!) stroll a few steps from the busy commercial centre.

Instead, I wandered around the back streets until I came to the scenic boardwalk.  After a stroll in the hot sun, I became aware of my enormous thirst.  As I looked up a little lane, I noticed a little restaurant called   Mustor’s , which is famous for local Bajan food.

Mustor's on McGregor street is a popular eatery with Bajans and tourists alike.

Mustor’s on McGregor Street is a popular eatery with Bajans and tourists alike.

I was a too early for lunch, so the friendly attendant described all the tempting sweet snacks in the enclosed glass case. I chose a coconut cake and homemade lemonade – very refreshing.  Lunch there is also on the agenda for next visit!

By now, my couple of hours of free time had slipped by and I wandered along the Boardwalk again in search of the main Bus Terminal a little distance away.  As I slowly walked, I admired some historic monuments, the cenotaph

Erroll Barrow was the first Prime Minister of Barbados. The monument is a permanent tribute to his memory and contribution to the development of Barbados.

Errol Barrow was the first Prime Minister of Barbados. The monument is a permanent tribute to his memory and contribution to the development of Barbados.

and stately churches.  By the time I

The Cenotaph in Central Bridgetown.

The Cenotaph in Central Bridgetown.

The building stone in Barbados has soft hues.

The pretty building stone in Barbados has soft hues.

reached the bus terminal, I had just missed the one heading back towards my hotel near the airport.  I could have waited for the next one, but I was hot and sweaty and wanted a little quiet and cool down before the last leg of my journey  home to Dominica. A taxi took me quickly back to my temporary Bajan base. Then by the time I arrived at the airport, I was more than ready to return to the Nature Island.  And there was one last surprise: my friends David and John were heading to Canada for a visit around the same time and lo and behold – I laughed out loud when we actually met by chance at a coffee kiosk in the terminal for one last hug and good-bye for now!

By evening, I was back at my home and working up a good sweat after my time spent in a cool Canadian summer.  I didn’t mind.  I was anxious to rid myself of any residue from the ‘non-toxic’  pesticides I had experienced on both airlines by breathing in the steamy clean air and drinking lots of pure spring water.

By now, you’ve yet to hear about the adventures (and there were a few!) of this canary who flew north for a few wonderful summer weeks in Canada.  Next post, I’ll tell you more!

 

 

 

When a Canary Could Sing

Whether healthy or health-challenged, music has always been a part of my life.  My earliest memories include my mother’s simple renditions of spirituals, 19th  to about mid 20th century wartime and parlor songs,  as well as traditional hymns.  We had an old console which continually played 45’s, 78’s  or  other LP’s of Nova Scotian folk songs (especially sung by Catherine McKinnon), American civil rights songs (including Joan Baez), Broadway musicals and Louis Armstrong.  Saturday afternoon housework was accompanied by jazz on the radio and Sunday lunch was digested with classical music, courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  And how could I forget, every week, we gathered around the TV to watch the famous and enduring Atlantic Canadian musicale, Don Messer’s Sing-Along Jubilee.

When I was nine, I joined the junior choir in my church near Kingston, Ontario and was fortunate to have a trained musician as organist and choir director.  There were six other little girls – all sopranos and me – the lone alto.  I didn’t mind at all.  I loved harmonizing and was able to carry the part with my developing voice.  It was a real thrill to sing my first solo on Easter Sunday at the age of eleven.

From that time, I explored  and learned to play other instruments – guitar, piano and clarinet in the high school band, as well as singing with choral groups off and on as a teenager. When I was in my final year of high school, I decided to pursue music at a more advanced level.  I took up formal singing lessons and even devoted a year between high school and university to  intensely study  voice, piano and music theory.

Gwendominica after singing at a fall wedding during her music studies at Queen’s in Kingston Ontario in 1980.

I really enjoyed  four years of music immersion (1977 -81) for the Bachelor of Music degree at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario.  My comprehensive program of study was a well-rounded one, and included mini-recitals leading up to the big graduation concert, as well as chorister parts and a few solos with the Choral Ensemble and the Chamber Singers, and a weekly part-time job as soloist at the Christian Science Church in my last year.  Prior to that, I formed a little group with two other ladies who worked with me during the summers at Old Fort Henry, a tourist site in Kingston, Ontario.  We called ourselves ‘WAH’ (initials of our last names) and sang songs from the 1940’s.  We beat out many other performers to sing in the prestigious ‘ Queen’s Best’ annual talent show in March 1980.

I made life-long friends at the Queen’s School of Music – most of whom continue with their music ‘on the side’ over 30 years later.  We  all felt that it would be too stressful, competitive and financially challenging to pursue professional careers as  musicians, so we  went off into different fields that realistically could generate steady income, such as teaching, business and the civil service.

As I  enjoyed books and research,   I decided to study Library Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  But of course, music was always waiting on the sidelines.  Even during the very intense two-years of  graduate  school, there was somehow always time to  perform solos and contribute to the  alto line at the First Baptist Church just off campus, and sing in a little in-class folk group,  as well as the  ever-popular Dalhousie University Chorale.  In the summer between the two years of study (1982), I returned to Kingston and performed with five others in the Broadway musical revue ‘By Strouse’ (Annie, etc) at the Kingston Summer Theatre, which was then based at the Grand Theatre on Princess Street.

It wasn’t long after I graduated in 1983 that I started my career as a librarian.  I worked hard  and moved to various positions  within different departments of  Government of Nova Scotia. It was a very productive time and I really enjoyed my chosen career.   Of course, I needed music as my main after-work diversion so I joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Nova Scotia in 1984.   It really was a lot of fun and we had a great time putting on full productions at the Neptune Theater in Halifax and a smaller playhouse in Annapolis Royal every spring.  The first few years, I sang alto and second soprano  in the chorus  and understudied  the main female parts.  To my delight, I was subsequently awarded lead roles in Iolanthe (Phyllis) and The Mikado (Yum Yum) in 1988 and 89.  I also sang the role of Peep-Bo in Symphony Nova Scotia’s production of The Mikado later in 1989. Apparently, G & S wasn’t  enough for me!  I also joined a small chamber choir directed by renowned Canadian organist Frederick Mooney for a year or so in 1983 and 84.  It was a thrill to sing with this small group of trained musicians and put on concerts of a very high standard.  Then, in 1985, a friend encouraged me to audition for a place in the Aeolian Singers, a 40 voice four part female choir of considerable repute, which is based in Dartmouth Nova Scotia.

This assembly of ladies took their singing very seriously.  Although amateurs, we aspired to professional standards.  The Director was very strict about attendance, rehearsal etiquette and respect for each other.  There was even a policy banning perfume  from practices and concerts, as she felt it could irritate and affect  some people’s voices.  I was intrigued by that rule, as it was a first for me, and  foreshadowed what  would later become all too familiar.  It was such an honour to sing first alto in this challenging choir, and to tour four countries in Europe (Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland) in July 1986 to great acclaim.

In 1990, I successfully won the competition for a well sought-after position in a prominent library in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was feeling on top of the world!  But after a couple of months on the job, my sphere quickly tuned upside down. Almost from the start, persistent chest colds and ‘flus, severe headaches, painful eczema on my hands, rapid weight gain, difficulty concentrating and troubling anxiety were taking their toll as I struggled to run a busy department.  Added to my dismay was the discovery that I could barely sing a few notes.   Initially, the loss of my singing voice was very hard to accept. It was a tremendous disappointment to decline an invitation by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of NS to again perform the popular duet from Iolanthe  entitled “None shall part us from each other…”.  It had been voted an all-time favourite of the troupe and I had been asked to sing it with the tenor lead at a special event.

As I searched for answers to my strange illness, I came to terms with the fact that I could no longer sing.  At that time, I felt too ill and exhausted to even think about it.  Eventually, I couldn’t even work and singing quickly becoming a distant memory.   Health-wise, every day was a struggle.  But then I started to get some answers from medical specialists. However, music was never in the equation (except for listening pleasure, which certainly was  and continues to be a therapy).

Then came the decision to move to Dominica (See https://canarygal.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/healing-on-the-nature-island/  ).  To my complete amazement, my abandoned music life took a surprising turn!

TO BE CONTINUED.

Healing on the Nature Island*

*This article was originally published in Canadians Resident Abroad, Winter 2002, and has since been slightly modified:

It was a frigid night in January of 1997. Howling winds. Snow drifts gathering on an already icy central Ontario, Canada highway. I cautiously crawled along the deserted road in my old Toyota. It was -20 C, and getting colder. I huddled into my long lambs’- wool coat and promised myself: “No more of this!”

I had been ill for a long time. Heavy metal poisoning, severe multiple chemical sensitivities and persistent allergies had taken their toll on my productivity and my personal life. Unpolluted indoor and outdoor environments were critical for my improved well-being. I had not had any luck in the parts of Canada where I had lived during the past several years. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Around that time, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission in the Caribbean. I had noticed that in previous years, a southern vacation had always bolstered my health. I had attributed that brief improvement to being in the holiday state of mind. However, with years of medical treatments and my own personal research behind me, I knew that those lovely islands had many of the basic ingredients for potentially restoring my health: clean air, clean food, clean water, fresh breezes and few airtight buildings.

It was by chance that I noticed a short note in the Queen’s Alumni Review from a Canadian couple who had uprooted and relocated to the Caribbean. Calgary, Albertans Sue Toy and Dennis Ference had actually built a house on the tiny Grenadine island of Bequia (“beck-way”), a short plane ride from Barbados. I made contact, explaining my quest, and they promptly provided me with information and an invitation to visit them if I should come their way.

My decision to proceed to Bequia was made very quickly. I was curious and intrigued that other Canadians had made the leap, and were carving out a new life for themselves in a foreign land.

I had been carefully scrutinizing information about other islands. All of the travel guides promoted Dominica (“dom-in-EE-ka”) as a place that appealed to nature lovers and adventure travellers. This English-speaking island is located between the French West Indian islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It offered neither 5-star hotels, nor long stretches of white-sand beach. Instead it boasted of a magnificent rainforest and other natural wonders as the self-proclaimed “Nature Island of the Caribbean.” These appealing descriptions certainly caught my attention.

When I called to book a room, the staff member at Dominica’s Springfield Plantation Guest House (now a research centre) assured me that they would accommodate my special needs upon my arrival from Bequia. They even offered natural foods and pure spring water. It sounded like just the right ticket and I was very excited.

After a full day of travel from Toronto, I jet-hopped from Barbados to St. Vincent and then to Bequia. The soft warm breezes, colourful scenery and fragrant flowers took the edge off of my permanent chill and sharpened my senses after the dull, dreary Canadian winter.

When I met up with Sue Toy and Dennis Ference, their extension of Canadian/Caribbean hospitality could not have been finer. Their beautiful home, set on a hill overlooking the harbour was aptly christened “The View,” with its stunning sunsets over the sea. They graciously entertained me with a huge meal of local dishes, which included stuffed Mahi-Mahi (fish), christophenes in coconut milk, brown rice, green salad and fresh fruit salad for dessert! (Sue is a gourmet cook.) They gave me a sense of island life and many examples of the differences between Canadian and West Indian cultures. Dennis stressed that it is very important to have a lot of patience and a tremendous sense of humour when living in a developing country.

Tiny Bequia was very lovely – quaint beaches, intimate cafés, and beautiful sailboats in the harbour. But somehow I didn’t feel as well as I thought I would there. A nearby garbage dump burned its refuse. The smoke occasionally drifted over the town. Also, drinking water had to be boiled because it was held
in cisterns. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and did return last year to renew acquaintances with my first expat Canadian friends.

I then travelled on to Dominica. The journey on the small turbo-prop aircraft was a harrowing one. Jet fuel fumes and on-board spraying of insecticides had me almost incapacitated by the time I reached St. Lucia, my in-transit destination. When I boarded the plane for Dominica two hours later, I could not have cared less about anything because I was feeling so ill. After an hour or so and a bumpy landing, I was at Canefield Airport in Dominica. I stumbled off the plane, doubled over with pain and unrelenting nausea. I was not sure if I could make it to the terminal without assistance.

The Springfield complex is nestled in the edge of the rainforest.

Amazingly, I took a few breaths of fresh air and I immediately began to feel better. In the taxi en route to Springfield, which is 1,200 feet above sea level, I gazed with awe and fascination at the lush green beauty all around me, and the stunning views of the northwest coast as we climbed higher and higher. It seemed incredible. I was very tired, but hardly felt ill at all by the time I pulled into Springfield.

There, the very caring and concerned manager greeted me. She appreciated my special needs and went to great lengths to ensure my every comfort. We removed an area rug from the room and she had the maid remake the bed with my own sheets, which I had brought from Canada. The charming space was laden with antique furniture and offered a spectacular view of the Antrim Valley right down to the Caribbean Sea. My room was set farthest away from the kitchen, the road and the parking area. Therefore, I could not be exposed to any type of fumes.

View of the Caribbean Sea and the Antrim Valley from Springfield

I was delighted with the home-cooked meals, full of fresh local fare. The tranquility of this “heaven on earth” captivated me. I was content to sit for hours on the veranda and gaze down the valley towards the sea. Doves cooed, crickets chirped, huge frogs, called “mountain chickens,” called to each other in the night. Sometimes the evening din of the insects in the forest was deafening. But I didn’t mind one bit. This pristine setting, also a wildlife preserve, had a soothing effect on me. The rushing river nearby was a refreshing place in which to dip in the late afternoons. Walking trails behind the guesthouse provided plenty of opportunities to stretch my legs and quietly contemplate my next move.

Apart from making myself at home at Springfield, I did take an island tour, a hike to magnificent Middleham Falls, and a tour of Roseau, the capital. I was also impressed with the warm, friendly people I encountered everywhere, who were very willing to provide directions and offer advice about living in their country.

When I returned to Canada after this brief visit, I was sold on Dominica. However, I wished to proceed cautiously as it would be a major step to move overseas. After a few lengthier stays, I decided that a migration to Dominica would be in my best interest, health-wise.

Almost five years later (15 as of 2012!), I am still on the Nature Island.

Of course, being a resident is not the same as being a tourist. There have been many challenges and I have learned personal lessons here that did not present themselves in Canada. I am very grateful for this opportunity to live in another culture.

Gwendominica returned to Springfield to attend a wedding reception in 2001.

Although I no longer reside at Springfield, I return there whenever possible and continue to be enraptured with its natural splendour. I am fortunate to be able to rent a modest home south of Roseau in a clean quiet area. I have a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea and the nearby mountains. My recovery has been slow, with some setbacks. However, I firmly believe that had I continued to live in Canada, I would not have made any progress at all.

In the summertime, I have been able to return to my homeland for follow-up medical treatments. It is always nice to reunite with family and friends and to enjoy the diverse cultural and culinary offerings in the Greater Toronto Area. But by the time late August rolls around, I am usually feeling much worse. The excessive pollution levels have taken their toll. Then I know it is time to return to my beautiful adopted country. As the plane descends into Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport, I remind myself that I am truly blessed to live on the healing Nature Island.