Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meet Monika Moravan: Can/Am Relations

Continued from Meet Monika Moravan, Part II, where the hockey writer, editor, and researcher—most recently the ghostwriter for CONCUSSED! —shared her thoughts on the 2012 U.S. presidential election, CAN/AM relations, and overt Canadians living and/or working in the U.S.

MM I’d say Obama has been good for us... We’ve had a conservative government for the last few years–mind you our conservatives are a little bit left of your democrats—but I think Canadians and Americans on a one-to-one personal level get along. You see a few little different personality quirks in courts here and there. I think the relations are still good, but it’s always very interesting to be up here and watch when you guys have your elections. Our federal elections are done in 30 days.

JD: I know; it’s great.
MM: Yours are two years, effectively they’re 3.5. It’s interesting to see some of the issues. I have family in the States as well, and they’re adamantly against any kind of national or public health programs, even though they’ve had to remortgage their house a couple times to pay those bills.

JD: I’ve read a couple books on the topic. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Fire and Ice, a study of Canadians and Americans. New Englanders are more Canadian, so to speak, than other areas. In Canada, it seems like there’s a certain segment that’s like, “We don’t know what we are, but we’re not American.”
MM: We’re always going to be like that. We’ll always be like that (laughing). We’re a young country as well. It’s just like teenagers, right? You might not know exactly who you are, but you know you’re not your parents. You’re not your aunt and uncle or your cousins. Sometimes that’s the best way of explaining it. However, we fit in just perfectly into the U.S. ...You take a look at the top new anchors, the top journalists…and a lot of those really good US hockey players have Canadian daddies, too. Canadian boys went down there, played in the NHL, married local women. You have your Zach Parises and a slew of the other guys, too.

JD: Matthew Perry is doing pretty well, too.

Monday, July 09, 2012

From PEI to the Maggies: Top Twelve Lessons

Île du Havre au Maisons
Vinyl Café on the radio as my wife and I drive from Naufrage to East Point, Prince Edward Island, we enjoy Stuart McLean’s insights about anthemic songs, such as Guy Lombardo’s Auld Lange Syne as performed by the Good Lovelies.

“I didn’t know Guy Lombardo was a Canadian,” my wife says. Nor did I.

I present, in no particular order, twelve other tidbits I learned during our adventure to PEI and the Magdalen Islands:

1.      At Arthur Mooney & Sons, a haven for potato mavens, I learned that the Russet Burbank and Shepody are the best spuds for making French fries.
2.      Tout à fait is, according to Jocelyn Martin of the Route 3 Eatery, French for “yes indeed,” my new catch-phrase.
3.      From French phrases to fiddle and folk music featured at other PEI restaurants: Fiddler’s Sons, whose CD gets airplay at Windows on the Water, and Tim Chaisson, whose music you might hear at Rick’s.
4.      Best information booth hosts in PEI: The Donnas in Morell because they aided helped my wife identify Covehead Lighthouse and gave me a copy of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, by Wayne Johnson.
5.      French lesson #1: Per Le Parler Québécois Pour Les Nuls (Speak Quebecois for Dummies), the book I consulted during a five-hour ferry ride from Souris, PEI to Les Îles de la Madeleine, the phrase for “beer league” is ligue du garage.
6.      Les Îles de la Madeleine has two hockey rinks according to local singer/songwriter/hockey player (do I get two minutes for slashing?) Claude Cormier.
7.      Best place for local music and tapas: Vent du Large, where we listened to Cormier sing about his love for Milwaukee.
8.      French Lesson # 2: Cormier’s song “Hockey” is about my favourite sport, not a city in Wisconsin.
9.      La Grave: The historic section of Havre Aubert is home to Vent du Large, idyllic sunsets and the best grilled cheese and accordion music (Café de la Grave).
10.  Boulangeries abound. We especially loved LaFleur de la Sable. Les croissants aux chocolat sont parfait pour un picnic. And the workers were patient with my faltering French pronunciation (see French Lesson #3).
11.  French Lesson #3: You don’t pronounce the “g” in L'Étang-du-Nord, another noteworthy area to visit.
12.  Havre-sur-Mer, Sympathetic Inn: The best host, the best French lessons, the best breakfasts, the best of the best, la crème de la crème. Calme et à la sérénité, tout à fait.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bruce Bell: Toronto’s Tour Guide and American Spy

“In the beginning, I always loved history,” says Bruce Bell, Toronto’s premiere tour guide, as he reflects upon his youth in Sudbury, Ontario. “Mom and Dad loved history. We as kids were always driving somewhere; getting in the car and going places.”

One such destination: Toronto, about a five-hour drive southeast of Sudbury, where not only the history intrigued him but also the architecture. When he was seventeen, Bell moved to the big city. Not to pursue a formal degree in either of his favourite subjects, though. With a walk-on bit part in the movie “Class of ‘44” (in 1972) on his resume, Bell returned, for good, to Toronto in 1973.

For twenty years, Bell bussed tables, acted, wrote and produced plays, and did stand-up comedy—he was a founding comedic member of Yuk Yuk’s Stand up Comedy Cabaret. “Never making much money,” Bell says, laughing, “but having a really good time.”

All this while, though, history tugged at his coattails. Was he really that passionate about acting? Bell recalls, “I was still reading up on Toronto history. Friends would come to Toronto, and I would show them around. And I realized: This is what I want to do; this is it.”

Not until his late forties, however, did Bell take action. “This is what I want to do” became “I’m going to do this.” He says, “I stopped whatever else (I was) doing, and (said) I’m going to become what I always wanted to be.”

“The Internet changed everything,” Bell says. The wonders of a Web site. Tourists contacted him. Business began to bloom, and so did Bell. In 1999, He began documenting Toronto’s history in The Bulletin, a widely-read community newspaper, and he wrote the book on the St. Lawrence neighborhood where he now lives. The St. Lawrence Market, in turn, named Bell its official historian in 2002.

The love of history his parents had instilled in him, his affection for architecture, and his performing experience: These factors guided Bell to his true calling, and he incorporates them all into his act. This walking, talking, taste-testing and teaching tour guide relishes the challenge every tour presents. An audience of one? Or twenty-five? Visiting from Ireland? America?

He tailors his tours to the personality and predisposition of his customers. “I can pretty much suss them out in the first couple minutes,” Bell says. “There are some people who are very serious about their history, and I enjoy that.”

Especially if said history buffs are Americans. “Nothing makes me more happy (than) if I get an American on a tour who knows his history, who knows a bit about Canadian history. That is so enjoyable, how we can go back an forth.”

To and fro, he says is the nature of American and Canadian history. We were once part of the same country, after all. American history students are familiar with the Thirteen Colonies, but they tend to forget about Canada’s influence on the States.

Bell loves taking Americans to two places. “I take a lot of them to St. James Cathedral,” he says. A loyalist haunt in the heart of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, the cathedral served as a hospital during the War of 1812. Bell says the church is where many ex-Bostonians—descendents of the Mayflower who believed that God could not speak to a president—congregated here. These United Empire Loyalists, many of whom lost their property as America emerged as a nation to be reckoned with, set the foundation for Canada as an English-speaking country. “Our heritage,” Bell tells his audience, “is American.”

The other landmark Bell visits is Commerce Court, what some call Commerce Banking Hall There, Bell encourages Americans to imagine Penn Station in New York, as the grand and ornate edifice stood before demolition commenced in 1960. “This is what you lost,” he says to Yanks. “This is what was torn down in 1966 (demolition took three years). When you enter this bank, pretend you’re entering Penn Station and you’re about to catch a train to go to Philadelphia or Boston.”

New York and Boston: Both cities Bell has visited. “I really loved New York City a lot.” He hasn’t been to Boston since about 2002, but he’s eager to return. First, though, he’s going to revisit Chicago, to lead a tour. You see, Bell is more than than a connoisseur of Canadian culture, more than a trusted Toronto historian: He loves that which transcends our borders—the shared history, the architectural similarities, and the friendly ties. He is an American spy.

Additional reading: