MooseJaw Canada

MooseJaw, is located halfway between Calgary and Winnipeg alongside the Trans-Canada Highway (population 33,000), and has enough local history and street art to be worth a two day visit (I really regretted only having a few hours). The Moose is impossible to miss from the highway, and stands adjacent to the city’s tourist information center/ the starting point for a guided tour of the city in an antique looking trolley/bus, a good way to begin your visit.

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I had initially wanted to stop in Moosejaw in part because I had remembered hearing about this town (with a name like that it’s hard to forget, although I forgot in what context) … but after having been massively let down by towns like Medicine Hat (really not much to see), I had decided to just drive through… and then I saw THIS along the highway… and of course, I had to stop in order to take pictures, and utilize the facilities

Once I was inside the building I realized that Moosejaw, even though it is a tiny little town has REALLY invested their tax dollars into doing everything they can towards making itself a worthwhile tourist destination. There is a Casino and a geothermal spa, and its the home base for a lot of fight training (both NATO and Canada’s equivalent of the Blue Angles — which quite humorously, are called the Snowbirds — a term that most people associate with something quite different) — none of which I had enough time in my schedule to enjoy. In fact I had totally underestimated how long it would take me to drive cross country and I had theater tickets already for the night of the 9th of August in Stratford, Canada, so in retrospect (once I realized JUST how much there was to do there) I quite simply could not give this town the time I think it deserved.

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From inside the information center I learned that Moosejaw HAD been an important railway town, at one point, from which agricultural goods from the surrounding area were shipped to the cities, and that there was museum in town devoted just to that topic, that was in fact part of an area wide network of museums.

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And that precisely because of the existence of that train line from Canada to Chicago, MooseJaw had become embroiled in, and received a massive economic boost from, the prohibition era in the U.S.A.

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I knew already from my previous reading on the topic (I had in fact only JUST finished a really good book on the topic a few months previous) that while the town “makes plenty of hay” from Capone having been in their town, there’s actually no hard historic evidence to support the claim.

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According to ‘what a local told me’, Capone had stayed here

While walking around the tourist information area, the two things that really sparked my interest (in terms of what to do during the few hours I could invest in the place), was the local tour bus and the tunnels that apparently run below the city. Apparently, if I had timed my stay for a weekend, at night the tour bus, which gives only a general tour of the city during the day, on weekend nights will do Ghost and murder tours of the city.

However, there was a ‘treat’ offered to the regular daytime tourists that unfortunately my diet would not allow me to partake of… a local pizza parlor that was a bit off the beaten path was offering free slices to anyone who took the tour (as a way to draw business).

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The bus took us all around town, and in particular made a point of showing us all the local street art, of which it was very proud

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Although, I will admit now… Pokémon-Go had come out a few months before, and while waiting for the bus I realized that this town had all sorts of RARE Pokémon I had not seen before, so I got a bit obsessive during the ride, putting more attention towards trying to catching the Pokémon than on listening to the tour guide (me bad — but I will note I’ve NOT seen any of these guys, well except the purple one, since this town).

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After the tour was over, I drove over to where the tunnels were, only to discover that while the tours of them leave every hour, the fact that I had arrived during a local holiday period meant that they were overwhelmed with tourists, and the wait to get into one of those tours was a good three hours, meaning I didn’t have enough time to be able to do one; and there are two, one about prohibition, one devoted to the Chinese population of town who apparently lived mostly underground (??) … as such I strongly suggest booking these tours in advance.

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Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria Canada

This Royal BC Museum of natural and human history is 130 years old, and is located right off of the TransCanadian Highway at the western edge of the ‘tourist’ area of downtown Victoria, next door to the British Columbia Capitol building. It is a VERY good museum with interactive/experiential display, that make learning more exciting while still protecting the exhibits. I saw something with my actual eyes I never expected to ever see in my life, an actual mammoth.

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The museums displays extend beyond the building, to encompass the entire property, and all ingresses and egresses from the building; and this includes some of the doors themselves, which in some cases are beautifully carved; as such, it really is worth while to explore the entire property, and not just B-line it to the front entrance.
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Inside the museum (assuming you came in via the front entrance), the first thing you see is the Imax theater, and the adjoining gift shop (which has some REALLY nice stuff with much BETTER prices than I saw for similar items at the local tourist shops). This included a lot of T-shirts, hiking gear, clothing, etc. There are in fact TWO gift shops, on the ground floor, so it is worth it to check both of them out. The one in the picture below is smaller, and tends to have more ‘useful’ type stuff, while the 2nd larger one has more ‘artistic’ sort of things.
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Based on my math, if you intend to go there at least three times in a year, the one-year-pass is by far the smartest buy. And since I was going to be living for a full month only a few blocks away from the museum, and expected to see it at least that many times during my stay (rainy days, etc), and maybe even take in some of their IMAX movies, I bought the pass.

The layout of the Museum is more narrow and tall, rather than low and wide, like most museums; as such in order to enter the exhibits sections of the museum (laid out on three separate floors), you need take an escalator — at which point you will be asked to show your tickets and or pass (or the elevators, available for handicapped access). This can be a bit confusing as you can easily spend a full day on just the first exhibit floor (2nd floor of building) and spend so much time there that you end up missing the other exhibits.

On the first floor, just where you exit the escalator, they have the rotating exhibition rooms. When I went it was an excellent exhibit on mammoths that really awed, over whelmed and stunned me. The first rooms taught you all about mammoths, and was very high tech and interactive and interesting.
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But the stunner, was after that room you entered a very small and very dark room which included an ACTUAL baby woolly mammoth.. they have named Zhenya.
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When you first entered the room, your eyes actually need to adjust a bit, but I assume this is to protect this oh so priceless find… which I’m actually kind of shocked they’ve allowed to go on tour.
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Seriously, I cannot overstate my excitement, delight and awe at being able to see in the flesh, an actual woolly mammoth, even if it was a tiny baby. I was completely farklemt.

(I will note, whoever was in charge of curating the display was not particularly careful in setting it up — look carefully at the photos and see if you can pick up the major OOPS!)

In the next room (well lit) there were more interactive displays to help teach kids about the lives of these now extinct animals
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Another set of rooms was about the Natural environment of the British Colombia region, and displayed taxidermied local animals arranged into impressively ‘simulated natural’ settings — remarkably natural, some of them even included moving water.

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this was followed by a very Steampunk/ Jules Verne, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea type esthetic, showing off the underwater life of the area.
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Another section of the museum is devoted to the human history of Victoria, as a seaport town belonging to the British

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Their collection includes George Vancouver’s Uniform, among others

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AND — and I thought this was really cool, the “actual” dagger (or at least it’s believed to be) that was used to kill the famous explorer, James Cook.
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Alongside these displays is life size “walk through” of the dock, and of a section of a British Sailing ship, with all the appropriate sounds (and some smells) piped in.

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This is followed by a small section devoted to the Gold Rush that help make the navel base /trading post into a city, where you can try your hand at sifting gold

(What the sign says: “Wig and Case: within a year of the rush to the gold fields in 1858, British law was imposed. As head of teh law enforcement, Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie was responsible for justice … The wig was just one of the many effects used by the judiciary to impress upon the sometimes rebellious gold rushers that British justice was paramount.”)

In another section of the museum there is a reconstruction of what Victoria looked like back in time, that is again, completely lifesize. You can walk into stores, go into the movie theater and watch a black and white movie, or walk through a hotel and see the rooms.

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And then there’s a whole section of the museum devoted to the First Nations (Canadian term for their Native American Tribes, which is gaining acceptance in the USA as well), their languages and their art.

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Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria B.C.

More than 150 years old, Congregation Emanu-El is located in Victoria, British Columbia, right off of the TransCanada Highway, and is both the oldest continuously operating Jewish congregation in all of Canada (1859) and the oldest continuously used synagogue (built in 1863) along the west coast of the North American Continent.

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Historically, the development of Victoria was similar to that of San Francisco, which had grown from a Spanish garrison on the Presidio (and it’s requisite* nearby lazy mission town in 1774) with only about 500+ non Native American inhabitants, to having achieved ‘vibrant city’ status almost overnight. As we all remember from our history classes, this occurred because of the 1848-1855 California gold rush, when tens of thousands of prospectors flooded into the area. In both cases, this sudden influx of miners drew along with them a smaller flood of entrepreneurial businessmen who were less interested in something as exciting as mining, than in setting up the far more dependably profitable, albeit dull, secondary businesses necessary to support the minors’ endeavors. In fact the business people as a whole, were the ones who made financial killings, while most of the minors went home penniless. Among these shop keepers, far more so than among the miners, were a relatively large number of Jews (because, lets face it, we’re Jews), so that by 1870, San Francisco had the largest population of Jews outside of New York, comprising a full 10% of the city’s population.

*Tangent alert! I say “requisite” because the Catholic Spanish  justified their heavy handed, military, colonialist, expansionism as being the spreading of G-d’s word via his ‘true church’ (i.e., Catholic); and, keeping in mind Spain had (till 1492) been a part of the Muslim empire, they initially did it with a jihadist zeal (I will make you love G-d’s word, and if that means killing one hundred of you in order to get just one true believer, that’s good math). Granted, this Islamic influence had tempered out over time, but even in the late 1700’s, ‘ideologically‘ what ‘mattered’ for the Spanish was the church, thereby allowing them to kid themselves that the military was just their to ensure the church got the job done; and, of course, it was all for the benefit of the native peoples being converted rather than any greed on their own part (imagine me faking a sneeze while saying *bullshit!*). This is not to say that Protestant governments did not do the former (military expansionism) … granted, they did, but arguably with a bit less of a concern for the latter (spreading the word). As I studied history I often got the feeling that the military men of protestant countries (of that period) sort of suffered their missionaries as a necessary evil and encumbrance, rather than viewing them as their raison d’être; as in protecting the missionaries who insisted on being out among the ‘savages’ rather than staying close to or better yet, behind, protected walls, just made their jobs harder… rather than being their jobs.

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Back to Victoria: Originally founded in 1843, as Fort Victoria — a military and Hudson Bay Company fur trading post (along side a naturally protected harbor), the explosive growth to city status was, again, a direct result of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush (1857), which brought in that same influx of minors, and supporting businessmen — who were again dis-proportionally Jewish (compared to the population of most Canadian Towns); and by ‘same minors’ I mean that most of them had traveled north along the coast from the overworked gold mines of the United States, to this new opportunity in Vancouver Island. In fact, gold had been mined in the Vancouver Island for a while before that, but news of the fact hadn’t reached San Francisco until the then Governor of Victoria (population again, about 500+) had sent a shipment to SF for minting into coins; and he probably had genuinely mixed feelings when what he got back a month later were his coins AND the unexpected and unprepared for influx of 30,000 men (“a record for mass movement of mining populations on the North American frontier, even though more men in total were involved in the California and Colorado“). How he felt about a large percentage of said men being Jewish businessmen, I can’t imagine, although I’m guessing they were the least of his problems, as “The influx of prospectors included numerous European Americans and African Americans, Britons, Germans, English Canadians, Maritimers, French Canadians, Scandinavians, Italians, Belgians and French, and other European ethnicities, Hawaiians, Chinese, Mexicans, West Indians, and others” (same Wikipedia source as above).

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According to the woman who showed me around the temple, the first thing the congregation (formed in 1859) did, was to arrange for the purchase of land for a consecrated  Jewish cemetery, which they did in 1860, rather than for the Shul (the building wasn’t built till 1863) — as the former was by far the more pressing need at the time. It was ultimately established on a 1.5 acre parcel, that was purchased by one of the members, a gentleman with the unenviable name of Lewis Lewis, who bought it with his own money and donated it to the congregation. And, according to the woman, the parcel purchased was so large and the community of the Shul (which for a long time was the only one in Victoria) has remained so small… that over 150 years later it still isn’t full.

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To a Jew, the fact that they were more concerned with a cemetery than a synagogue makes total sense, but let me explain why: unlike Catholics, Jews don’t actually require priests/rabbis or ‘churches/temples’ in order to pray, just a knowledge of the prayer or a copy of the book (hence the religion of the book) — and in fact the 16th century Protestant Reformation returned this attribute to some sects of Christianity. For Jews, most praying can be done alone… although there are a large number of specific prayers — for instance the prayer for the dead, or Kaddish — that require a minyan (a quorum if you will) of 10 Jews who have all had their Bar’Mitzvah ceremony (or bat — if you’re not orthodox). In fact, if you arrive at a synagogue early enough for morning prayers, it’s not the rabbi that you will find the group waiting for, but rather the quorum of 10… with, if necessary, you see individuals running out into the hallways (or the street, if it’s a Jewish neighborhood) to drag people in so they can get started. As such, prioritizing the creation of the graveyard over the building of a synagogue (or shul), makes perfect sense from our perspective…

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I first learned about this Shul during the Canada Day festivities when my friend Gina was visiting. As we were walking around looking at the local ‘group’ displays we came across one for the local JCC (Jewish Community Center) and the woman there told us about this historic shul just a few blocks away, and invited us to attend services, if we wanted to. Apparently they only have about 200 families in their entire membership, most of whom only show up for the high holidays. And they don’t do anywhere close to the normal amount of services (technically there should be three a day), but only manage to pull together a regular minyan for Sabbath prayers, and only once a week (Most shuls in major cities do two, Friday night and Saturday morning), and they only manage to do the 2nd Sabbath prayer once a month. She also said that if I came by the office during business hours, they’d be happy to show me around, even if there were no services that day — which is what I ultimately did.

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Even though this is a conservative shul, the construction of the temple implies that it started out as orthodox, where men prayed on the fist floor and women sat above, looking down on their husbands and sons. (This is highly likely, since the Conservative Jewish movement, which among other changes allows men and women to sit together, was created about the same time as the shul was built.)

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The boards with the names (Yahrzeit Memorial Plaques) are traditional, and visible in most shuls around the world. They show the name of all former members and memorialize the date of their death in both the Jewish and Christian Calendars (they are different), with the lit lights reminding friends and family to remember that this week they need to say the prayer for their loved ones (“The Mourner’s Kaddish”).
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You have got to love the town where the parishioners feel it’s completely safe for the regulars (those who attend services regularly) to leave their Tallis bags just sitting out in the open like this. At our shul in Chicago there’s a locked closet. These bags will contain the things men need to pray, a Kippa — assuming they don’t wear them all day (orthdox will), their Tallis (or prayer shawl), and Tefillin (the little boxes attached to leather cords that are wrapped around the head and arm during prayers — “…and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” — Deuteronomy 11:18).

Apparently one of the walking tour-companies (the ones I seen where the leader has a mic and all the followers have Bluetooth earphones) offers a Jewish Victoria tour once a week that walks around looking at the various historic buildings, pointing out the ones that were originally Jewish stores… am thinking about it.

July 1: Canada Day in Victoria, B.C.

Canada Day, is not an “independence day” equivalent to July 4th in the U.S.A.; rather, it is a national holiday commemorating a 1867 event when the remaining North American British colonies unified & reorganized themselves (by mutual agreement of the British and their Canadian colonists) into a confederated single country called Canada, but one that remained for another 115 years part of the British Empire, until 1982.

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Source: http://www.victoria.ca/EN/meta/news-archives/2016-archive/join-us-for-victoria-celebrates-canada-day.html

This commemoration event made me realize that my knowledge of Canadian history is woefully and embarrassingly non-existent; I actually had no idea that Canada Day even existed, nor for that matter its date, nor did I fully understand what it was about; so, it was by happy accident that I began my one month stay in downtown Victoria, B.C., the day before this event.

(That said: I am currently looking on Amazon.com, both the US and Canadian ones, in an attempt to rectify that, and just not finding much.)

This ignorance (a state of being I have little tolerance for) was brought home to me when one of my oldest friends, asked me ‘what is Canada Day’ and I didn’t know the answer. Gina — who looks like she could be my better looking, much thinner and slightly taller sister — and I have known each other since kindergarten. She’s been visiting me from time to time as I’ve been doing my road trip, since she likes to travel, but her hubby not so much, and she has neither the time nor inclination to travel intensively, the way I have been doing it. So, from time to time she takes a few days off from work and comes to where ever I happen to be — usually after I’ve been there long enough to have a sense of what she might want to see, and she crashes at my place and I become her local guide. When she therefore asked me, “what is Canada Day” I realized that I genuinely had no clue on how to answer that (it was annoying), other than that I was sure it was NOT an Independence day. Canadian independence from the British Empire happened when I was a Junior in High School, and I remembered it. It was a really big deal at the time particularly in my home, since a lot of my family is British (and by birth, technically, so am I).

So what follows is in answer to Gina’s question of, “well if it isn’t an Independence day, what is it?”…..

Originally called Dominion Day (a choice of words I find interesting), Canada Day Celebrates the confederation in 1867 of the two colonies (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) into a whole, named Canada, which was then immediately broken into FOUR Provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

This however was not ALL of what is now Canada, as there are actually ten provinces and three territories (not just four provinces), and these are:

Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador (which apparently count as one), Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

Territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

The major difference between the two categories seems to be whether their power is derived from the constitutional act of 1867 (also known as the British North America Act of 1867 — territories) that Canada Day commemorates, or whether their power is delegated by the central government (which I assume means the central government maintains the prerogative to revoke them at some future time, I assume after the territories are more densely settled — must investigate further).

The province of British Columbia, where I currently am, didn’t join until 1871 when it became the sixth Canadian Province, after the negotiation of a few legal and economic points. From my perspective, this sounds a lot like what happened with the Crown colonies joining the US — with North Carolina and Rhode Island being hold outs until their terms were agreed to, or the current on-going and in the news example of European countries and EU membership.

And that said,  I am about to go off on a HUGE historical tangent, which this brings to mind: namely, the historical question of, “Did the Southern States have the legal right to secede from the Union?” (And what the fuck does this have to do with Canada, is what I assume you’re currently thinking to yourself. No really, bare with me.) The answer is predicated on, do you consider the U.S. Constitution to be a contract or a treaty. No seriously, it makes a HUGE difference from a legal standpoint… and MOST legal scholars tend to agree that Lincoln, as a lawyer, must have known that he had no legal right to stop secession, precisely because the constitution was initially ratified in 1789 with only 11 of the 13 colonies/states agreeing to it, and the holdouts adding on later by 1790 — not to mention our ability to add more states as needed without having to write up a new constitution. (Point of fact, one wouldn’t know unless you majored in law or political science: legally, no one can enter a contract after the fact; for that to happen the old contract has to be broken and a new one created that all current members sign. This is not so with a treaty, where others can join on the agreement after the fact, and more importantly, in a treaty signers reserve the right to leave at will with no major repercussions, which you don’t get to do with a contract.) Most legal scholars consider the constitution to be a treaty for this reason. However, that said, since all of the Canadian colonies were under British control (sort of like teenagers legally, rather than full adults) I don’t think British Columbia would legally have the right to secede, but it is an interesting thought anyway.

From the little I’ve read, while prepping to write this — again, I am looking for some good general readers on Canadian History — the reorganization, and the general semi-independence granted to Canada by the British was definitely influenced by what had happened in what were, then, the United States, in an attempt to keep Canada in the Empire. For the most part it worked, and Canada was kept at least legally dependent on the British Empire for another 115 years, or in other words until just 34 years ago in 1982.

So, back to the fun part:

There was a whole schedule of events lined up for the day, but where Americans seem to be married to the concept of 4th of July parades, followed by music, food, and then fireworks… the Canadians seem to really enjoy forming ‘human flags.’ Apparently — from what I was hearing — every major city in Canada does one of these, and there’s a sort of unofficial rivalry for who can do the biggest one… which Winnipeg seems to hold the record for, and the fact that it included free Canada T-shirts was a definite draw from my perspective.

Unfortunately, by the time we got done brunch (dim sum, not great), and dragged our asses the five or six blocks from my apartment to the lawn in front of the British Columbia Parliament building (the majestic building with the green rooms), they had already handed out all 1,500 t-shirts. We did however get there in time to see them forming the flag by herding people, based on t-shirt color, into specific locations that were marked by bright yellow strings. There were multiple TV stations and Newspapers taking shots, both from the ground, and from elevated positions.

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Along with this, there was also live music (really good live music I might add), activities and a bouncy castle for the kids, many folks touting red maple leaf temporary tattoos on their faces, and no shortage of adults embracing their Canadian Identity with a geeky fervor that I just loved.

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Just off to the side of this were food trucks, and public service groups advertising everything from efforts to revive nearly extinct species specific to Canada, to public service groups. Gina and I are both very Jewish (in our own ways), we met at a Jewish Kindergarten, and were really happy to see that there was a Jewish contingent being represented.

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From them we learned that there are a few different synagogues in town; apparently, the conservative one is not only just up the street from my rental, it is also the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada (I will endeavor to stick my nose in late this month); they had mistakenly said it was the oldest in all of North America — but I knew that couldn’t be right because I (rightfully) thought that one is located in Rhode Island, but I didn’t correct them. However, according to Wikipedia the one in Victoria is the oldest West coast synagogue in North America…  Unfortunately the congregation is so small that they only do Saturday morning prayers regularly, with Friday night prayers only happening once a month. There is also a reform, a Chabad (of course), and a spiritualist new age type community.

Besides this we found rows and rows of local artists selling their wares. Products ranged from hand made native american art, to bucket loads of jewelry and clothing, to bizarre garden gnomes.

One item for sale kind of freaked us out. If you’ve been shopping lately you’ve noticed that fossilized ‘life’ of various forms, and quartz seem to have not only become all the rage, but seem to be selling as jewelry that range in prices from $180 to an almost identical item selling for $5. At one such table I picked up a necklace that appeared to be a fossilized leaf… really pretty, and it slipped from my hand and hit the floor and shattered. I showed it to the guy managing the table and apologized saying, “you break it you buy it” and he waved me off saying not to worry about it, “we guarantee what we sell, so if it broke from one drop, don’t worry about it.” Both Gina and I just “LOOKED” at each other, and walked away a bit freaked out. We both mentally went to, ‘if that cost them so little that they don’t care customers break them, then none of that stuff we’re seeing in stores must be real.’ As in I think the Chinese have figured out how to mass produce this stuff, and the product selling for $200 a pop might be the same crap that’s selling for $5 a pop.

Buyer beware is all I can say about that.

After that Gina and I were both utterly warn out, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to crash. On the way back we passed a very hunky looking Canadian policeman (seriously, hubba hubba), and I asked him where the best places to see the fireworks from were, describing about where my rental was. He suggested a location much closer than the one advertised, and we thanked him…  we went back to my place and we both fell asleep for a few hours before heading out to the fireworks.

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Afterwards Gina noted that this had been two firsts for her: firstly, watching fireworks from an angle where you can actually see the track of the fireworks, and secondly, she had never really watched them fully over water before. It was quite lovely.

 

Boat Graveyard: Royston, Wrecks, B.C.

Came across this on the AtlasObscura website, it’s a breakwater that was constructed by sinking a bunch of due for the graveyard ships.

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I made a strategic error, I tried to walk across the sand that had been exposed by the low tide, and at a certain point it became like quicksand and it stole my shoes off my feet. I was able to get them back… but then it stole them a second time. And then, as I tried to pull them loose, I fell down. Suffice it to say I was good and muddy with some really FOUL smelling gunk that soaked through EVERYTHING…

That night I had a major score. I have since before the breakwater to make a booking with an Airbnb in the area, figuring it was late, and would like to see the place in full daylight in the morning… and the woman I had made the pending booking with never responded. So I called Airbnb to try to cancel. I told them that it was getting late, and I couldn’t afford to wait much longer for her to respond because I was a good 2 1/2 hours away from my place and the sun was going down and I was tired… basically worried that it wouldn’t be safe to drive (no lights along those roads, and I’m starting to loose my night vision). Basically I said, “If I’m going to have to drive back I need to start now” …. Happily, they not only cancelled the request, but they told me that if I could find a decent hotel for the night they would reimburse me for the cost up to $150. So I stayed at the Holiday Inn on their dime…. Score!

That night, I took the shoes, the socks, the pants, into the shower and tried to wash them clean. I kept wringing out the socks and this black water kept coming out. Even after, and I used shampoo, the stuff still stunk. Took them home the next day and put them through the wash….