Montgolfiere Weekly

An exploration of culture in its many forms


January 2017

Ten famous Canadians

By Patricia Lightfoot

In the 1990s, a few weeks before moving to Montreal, my husband and I were having dinner in France with friends who also happened to be originally from the UK, and the discussion turned to what sort of country we were going to live in for the next three years. We agreed that apart from having a reputation for amiability, Canada did not seem to have a very high profile in Western Europe. Someone then asked whether any of us could name any famous Canadians. “Of course!”, we said. As far as I recall, the list was a bit like this: Continue reading “Ten famous Canadians”

Alex Janvier

By Patricia Lightfoot

I was impressed and moved by the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada of the works of Alex Janvier, who is of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent. Whether abstract or figurative, many of his paintings are a protest against the ill-treatment of indigenous people and the lack of respect in which they have been held, and the related degradation of the Canadian landscape. Blood Tears is a painting of imagery related to the residential school Janvier was forced to attend for 10 years, whereas on the reverse side of the painting, he lists the resulting losses that he and so many other children were forced to endure. Oil Patch Heart Beat is a circular abstract painting, in which blue is the predominant colour, against which drops of red, leading to a little heart, stand out. The piece glows, reminiscent of the rose windows of medieval cathedrals. Janvier creates beauty in the expression of loss.

Photo credit: Thompson River University

The list

My take on travel planning has always been impulsive, so I was intrigued to learn about a friend’s more methodical approach. This friend prefers not to leave a digital footprint, so her name is not included here. PL

 Please tell us about your list

As far back as I can remember, I have had what some people call a “bucket list.” It comes from my childhood, when my parents impressed upon us that we shouldn’t take life for granted and then regret missed opportunities. Embracing the next travel opportunity, both near and far, was a common topic of conversation and, arguably, the glue that connects us as a family. Some travel adventure stories make for great dinner conversation, like my father recounting his unorthodox journey to find the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or my sibling’s first trek to Machu Picchu. While other stories, often the most meaningful experiences in my view, are best shared only with those we love. I remember what the sun felt like while exploring the Cinque Terre or how the air smelled like citrus in Capri, which doesn’t exactly make for tantalizing dinner conversation, but these are some of my favourite memories nonetheless. Continue reading “The list”

Night-time snow removal

By Patricia Lightfoot

A classic urban Canadian phenomenon is the rumbling sound and light show of heavy snow-removal equipment after dark. It begins with the signs deposited on the snow banks that line each street, warning that snow removal will take place between the posted hours. Early that evening, a pick-up truck goes up and down the streets with flashing lights and sirens to encourage laggards to move their cars. Sometimes, thoughtful city workers will bang on people’s doors to say, “Is that your car? Do you know whose it is?” This means that your car isn’t towed and you can move it to a street that is not being cleared that night. A few blocks away, you can see the headlights of the waiting trucks, which are the longest I have ever seen. The grader, which looks like a giant prehistoric insect, arranges the snow in a long, high pile, the length of a city block, so the auger can spin it up and shoot it down into the trucks with its Loch Ness monster neck. The sight of the trucks and the auger processing slowly in unison down a dark street illuminated by lights on the vehicles, accompanied by the heavy tank-like rumbling, always makes me happy to live in a peaceful, though chilly, country.

When the Kings arrive

Or, as suggested by a friend in France, the title should be “The egalitarian galette.” I am re-posting the piece given the date and also because it fits with this year’s theme of life in Canada. PL

by Patricia Lightfoot

When I was a child, a Scottish Highland Christmas was something for children (“the bairns”), whereas the big celebration was Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve. Once we were a few days into the New Year, and everyone’s hangover had subsided, I remember my Scottish grandparents saying that now the festivities were over, it was time to return to “old clothes and porridge.” There was something triumphant, almost gloating, in their voices. All the Christmas decorations, the tree, the lights, the tinsel and the cards had to be taken down specifically before the end of the day on January 6. This could have been because of a desire to tidy up or something darker. Even now, if I am in the home of friends who have left their Christmas tree up until mid-January, I feel a slight sense of unease. Continue reading “When the Kings arrive”

1867 and all that – what’s really being celebrated?

By Patricia Lightfoot

This year, Canada’s 150th birthday is being celebrated. The events planned for Ottawa, where I live, include a fire-breathing dragon and a giant spider processing through the city streets courtesy of the ingenuity of La Machine. But what does the 150th really mean? The First Nations, Métis and Inuit have been here for more than a millennium, and the first European settlers began to make a life here in the early sixteen-hundreds. What is being celebrated is an agreement by four of Canada’s current provinces — Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — to work towards making all of British North America one nation. The enterprise has clearly been a success, though Newfoundland and Labrador only joined in 1949, and the newest territory, Nunavut, was created in 1999. Generally, the standard of living is high, and life is good for many, but a national failure is our treatment of indigenous communities. It’s time for us to do better. My intention this year is to learn more about the lives of indigenous people in Canada.

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