In need of a vacation and with my return to school in January pushed back by 3 weeks, from January 1-9, 2018 I set out on an adventure to Jasper, Alberta for a few days of adventures in beautiful Jasper National Park. I then returned home on board Via Rail’s The Canadian, which took me across 4 provinces over 3 nights and days. Enjoy the first of the photos and stories of my adventures, and stay tuned for more.
First real glimpses of the town on my first morning after breakfast at Smitty’s, with the sun still not quite above the mountains yet.
Jasper was, and still is, a railroad town.
The Two Brothers Totem Pole, found on Connaught Dr close to the train station. A beautiful sight, and I was pleased to see some presence of Indigenous art, but some research showed concern held by local Indigenous people towards it. I enjoyed reading the historical information signs around the townsite, and while there was some mention of Indigenous people and history in them, this is definitely an area where Parks Canada can and needs to improve.
A bit of telescope iPhone photography from a wonderful experience at the Jasper Planetarium. A cool planetarium show followed by the chance to moon and stargaze using telescopes and binoculars, aided by well informed and very pleasant staff. 12/10 would recommend.
Medicine Lake. Or as my tour guide called it ‘the world’s largest bath tub!’.
Mid-mountain at Marmot Basin. Never mind the skiing, I could have sat there and admired the views all day.
Finally got the confidence to venture to the top! Only fell once. And needed a break at the mid-mountain chalet (something we sure don’t have a need for in southern Ontario!).
After two days of snowshoeing and skiing I earned myself a latte, chocolatey treat and a few hours of reading in the cozy back section of The Other Paw Bakery Café.
Just a bunch of elk wandering through town and along the tracks!
Final stop in Jasper, the lovely historic train station, waiting for my adventure on board The Canadian to begin!
So there you have it, some first glimpses of my time in Jasper. A truly wonderful vacation that left me refreshed and energized to return home, I would absolutely recommend a visit. Stay tuned for some more detailed accounts of my time in the town and the park, as well as my time on board The Canadian all the way home to Toronto!
I debated whether or not to write anything to share publicly. Out of respect for my terms of employment, for the respect and privacy of those in the communities I visited, out of fear of saying the wrong thing, and to not just be another white person taking up space where Indigenous voices should be front and centre. These concerns are one of the reasons why I have stayed quiet until now. But given how so many Canadians still live in relative, if not complete ignorance of the experiences of Indigenous peoples both in the past and present, I think I have a certain responsibility not to stay silent.
On that note, before reading, I ask two things of you as you move on:
Be critical. Of both my perspective and experiences, as well as your own. This is written through the lens of a 23 year old, white, urban, middle-class, university educated female from southern Ontario who only spent 6 weeks in the north, and only 3 weeks in each community. Through what lenses are you reading this post?
Don’t listen to me, go listen to Indigenous voices. I mean, yes, please read and understand and appreciate this post. But then go on to proper sources for learning. Indigenous sources. There are many incredible voices out there (I highly recommend CBC Indigenous as well as following @IndigenousXca on twitter as your starting points). But as I’ve said before, I’m a white girl from the south. While I have things to share, at the end of the day I’m not the one we should really be listening to.
Having gotten those thoughts out in the open, now this post can actually begin.
Summer ’17 for me took me all the way up to Northwestern Ontario for 6 weeks to work in two remote, fly-in reservations (approximately 400 km and 600 km north of Thunder Bay) running summer camps focused on literacy for children in the communities. One month after my return I still struggle to truly share with others what the experience was like, but let’s go with ‘wonderful yet tough’ for now. While I don’t wish to in anyway speak on behalf of Indigenous people, here are some general thoughts and ideas I took home with me from my time in the north that I hope you can appreciate and learn from too.
Arrival in community #2, happy to be on the ground for good after some very turbulent skies. Yes that’s a gravel runway, and no that’s not the smallest plane I flew on.
1. Racism and colonialism are alive and well
Not that I didn’t comprehend these topics before, not that I had never seen them. But I saw them in a whole new light this summer, one that I don’t always see first hand. We need to accept that even in Canada, these are still everyday realities for so many people and the negative effects are widespread, deeply embedded in our society, and have long-lasting intergenerational effects. We have normalized so many things that would never be accepted beyond a reserve, from unsafe drinking water to the stereotypes and negative words they are so often confronted with. Why? Because. They. Are. Native. It hurt so much to see this in a light that was new for me but an everyday reality for so many. But we must acknowledge it, accept it without defence or deferring responsibility, and make meaningful change at both individual and systemic levels.
2. What ‘resilience’ truly means
I’ve struggled to come up with a way to expand on this point without rambling on for hours. But it is there, it has been there for generations and it is only getting stronger.
3. The beauty of the land
I almost wrote ‘the beauty of our land’ but stopped myself. Because the land I was on this summer was not my land, I was merely a visitor. But my oh my, the north is so beautiful. Rugged, but with beauty I have never seen before. And it is so critical that we take every effort to protect this beautiful planet that we all share. And particularly critical that we properly consult with Indigenous communities and put their immediate and long-term health and well being at the centre of any matters regarding resource development, pipelines or anything else that affects the land they live on.
When you fly on single-engine planes, you always get a window seat.
4. We must immediately provide funding for clean drinking water and equal funding for education
I still hesitate sometimes before using tap water, because in both communities I worked in we had to boil water to make it safe to drink. Even after boiling it, it was still discoloured.
Full stop. Just do it. That we have let these inequalities go on for so long is absolutely appalling, and these are two things that would have enormous and widespread positive impacts for all members of these communities. The only reason this has not happened is a lack of political will, at least amongst those it doesn’t directly impact.
5. Thunder Bay. Or as one kid called it ‘Murder Bay’.
From the plight of students who must leave their communities and families to go to Thunder Bay for secondary and post-secondary education, to open and violent racist words and actions so many face, Thunder Bay is not just an unwelcoming place for many Indigenous people, but a dangerous one. This was pretty shocking to learn, and if we cannot provide adequate education, healthcare and other opportunities to those living in remote communities then we must ensure they have a safe place to go to receive these things. Thunder Bay is where many end up, but they are not often served well there.
6. Food security and costs must be addressed in a culturally appropriate way
$5.69 for a 2L carton of milk. Roughly $3/lb for bananas. $11 for a small brick (270g) of cheese. $17 for 1 kg of frozen chicken. Shall I go on? These are Nutrition North subsidized prices. But more subsidies aren’t the answer. We have to find a better way to support remote communities in feeding their people in healthy, sustainable, affordable, culturally appropriate ways. Because what’s happening now, at least in the communities I was in, doesn’t check any of those boxes, and the status quo just can’t continue.
7. Every Canadian must take responsibility for reconciliation
No, we were not the ones who sent children to residential schools or who established our own settlements on unceded land. No, maybe you don’t say racist things or do your best to treat everybody in equal and kind ways. But we must accept and acknowledge how we have benefitted from colonialism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples (such as land theft and not respecting treaties) and we must move forward towards a better future. There are some great resources becoming available about how individual Canadians can do this (here’s one to get you started), because reconciliation isn’t just about governance and treaties, but unlearning negative stereotypes and beliefs, understanding, and simply respect from one human being to another. Yes the government has work to do, but so do I and so do you.
Sunrise from the dock
Bonus: I am allergic to bee stings
Yeah, that was a painful and itchy lesson. I’d suspected it based on a reaction as a kid but never got tested, which needs to officially happen now. Thankfully just ‘large local reaction’ allergic not anaphylactic, but unpleasant nonetheless. It also got infected. Because my life is ridiculous. However, I was home by this point and very grateful to be able to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic for antibiotics instead of only having the nursing station available.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long post. I seriously encourage you all to go and better educate yourself on issues facing Indigenous people in Canada, to connect with Indigenous people and organizations in your community, to pressure politicians at all levels to take reconciliation seriously, and to make reconciliation a personal mission for yourself. This summer was a starting point for me, and I hope this post can be one for you.
Three months. Trois mois. 91 days. No matter what way I put it, no matter what language, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for 3 months. In some ways that time has absolutely flown by, while in other ways it feels like I’ve been here forever.
Now where is ‘here’ you may be wondering?
Here/home for now is a place called Rimouski, Quebec. Back on September 1st I dragged me, myself and 97 pounds of luggage onto an airplane bound for Quebec City. A few days later I was dropped off at a house full of people who don’t speak english, and life has been flashing by ever since.
Concierge (jokingly): Geez, do you have everything you own in here? Me: Ummm, actually I do.
Work life these days consists of being an english language monitor in a francophone elementary school. I work with roughly 400 kids from grades 1 through 6 doing activities, both in the classroom and small groups, to help the kids improve their english and learn about life and culture in English speaking Canada. Madame/Mrs/Miss Natasha (said with a cute french accent) at your service.
I often get asked why I left everything behind to come here. And what I had back home was pretty good, but at the same time I know this was a good choice. First of all, to have a meaningful job that’s decently connected to what I want to do in the future that pays enough to be financially independent? That in of itself is a blessing for a 21-year-old and a reason to move 1000 km away. But the ultimate goal of my time here is to improve my french.
And oh, is it improving. Oh yes indeed. Because when you live in a house full of french-speakers, as well as in a community of fifty thousand people where a whopping 0.7% of the population speaks english as their first language (that’s 330 people), and only 22.7% claim to be bilingual in english and french, it’s kind of inevitable. (Check out the 2011 census if you don’t believe me! https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/fogs-spg/Facts-cma-eng.cfm?LANG=Eng&GK=CMA&GC=404)
But my time here is definitely about more than a pay cheque, work experience and linguistic ability. The program is called Odyssey after all. It’s been about adventure, about connecting with nature, learning more about the country I’m proud to call my own, and not following the status quo. It’s about getting a glimpse into life as a minority, making it through the tough days when your friends and family are a thousand kilometres away, and exploring the joys and treasures a new community holds. It’s been about learning how to refill the pellet stove that heats the house, being able to rattle off the times when the tide will be in or out, and finally understanding the Quebecois accent. And of course, it’s been about copious amounts of hockey, poutine, and maple syrup.
So that’s where life has taken me for the time being. For those of you who ask, no, it won’t be forever. My wandering and adventures of the past few years have been fun and I wouldn’t change them for anything, but I’ve also figured out what I love, my priorities, and that I would really love to live in one place for more than 8 months. Because I haven’t done that since I was 17 years old and I’m ready to do that again. So come summer, I’ll be back Ontario, and trust me, the wait for me to come back will be worth it.
“Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club -the community of speakers of that language.”
Just under a year ago, I was part of a special course where we hosted a group of students from Malmo, Sweden for a week, and then went to Sweden for a week of classes there. I walked more in those two weeks (and the third week while travelling around Western Europe with a friend) than I ever have in that timeframe before, and while I would never put my feet through quite that much torture again, my positive experience there made me truly realize how much North Americans rely on cars, and even busses and other forms of public transit to get around, and since then I’ve naturally found myself walking and using other forms of active transit more than ever.
A street in Sweden. Note the sign marking how bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk.
While the Swedes were here in London, they weren’t afraid of the 20 minute walk to the grocery store, and they weren’t afraid to walk back even while carrying food. They also weren’t afraid to walk to and from Mongolian Grill from King’s, and quite enjoyed talking the longer route along the river on our way to dinner that night. Part of those choices were so we didn’t have to find bus fare/tickets for everybody or so that we didn’t have to wait for the bus, but it was primarily because walking that distance was quite normal for them. I’ve certainly walked those routes myself before, but ever since they came, with the exception of when the weather is bad I find myself automatically walking (or biking) those routes instead of taking a short bus ride.
But it was when I was in Malmo that things really changed. We were a bit skeptical when they said we wouldn’t need to take the bus that week. But we soon realized that walking (or biking, which we did a bit of) really was the best way to get around there, and it being free sure didn’t hurt either!
We had a lovely dinner here on one of our final nights. Note the patios, the lack of cars, the space to gather, and of course all the bike parking!
Staying in the city centre certainly made it easier to walk everywhere, and fortunately the school was only a 20 minute walk away. But it wasn’t just the distance that made us rely on our own two feet to get around, it was that it was so enjoyable! Gorgeous European architecture aside, they take placemaking seriously there, the streets weren’t filled with cars and thus felt immensely safer, and those things combined made walking an enjoyable experience, as opposed to the stressful and downright dangerous scenario that is often reality in North American cities. Pedestrians truly have the right of way there, which is facilitated by not only a different attitude towards those on foot and bike, but by more pedestrian and bike friendly street design that still allows for efficient travel for cars. (If you want to learn more about my experiences biking in Malmo, check out this old post.)
What else made it so nice? What about the market that appeared in a park one afternoon on our walk back from class? Or the food stands around the river? The way finding signs? The sidewalks and paths wide enough for bikes and pedestrians, with signs and/or lines dictating how they should be shared? The many streets and public squares that were closed to cars? Or how about the many patios for restaurants and cafes? I couldn’t pinpoint one thing, but all of these different elements came together to make it not only unnecessary to step foot inside a car or bus while there, but so pleasant to be on foot that I didn’t even want to.
Kind of hard to see the pedestrian areas from this photo, but even at busy Triangeln, there’s space for everybody.
Coming back to Canada was a bit of a shock, but I continue to walk more than I ever have. It’s free, it’s more efficient than most realize, it’s wonderful to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine (even when masked a bit by car fumes and smog), it’s quiet time for myself built into my day (sometimes the only chance I get for that) and if I keep it up then maybe others will join me and we’ll continue to tip the scales more towards the roads being a truly shared space instead of a place for cars with the edge bits grudgingly given to pedestrians.
So the moral of the story? We need to reimagine and redesign our streets so that there is a space for everyone-pedestrians, bikes, public transit, and yes, cars too. We can’t force people out of their cars if it’s not a safe or nice environment for them. We need to bring life back to the streets and to the public by eating our meals there, by sharing artwork and music in our streets and parks, by creating pedestrian only areas, by making public squares where people can gather, and by making our streets a not only safe but enjoyable place to move and to be.