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Archive for May, 2011

The Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia runs from West Vancouver to Squamish. As you drive north from Horseshoe Bay, Howe Sound is on your left, and the Coast Mountains are on your right. (They are not The Rockies!) Before BC hosted the Olympics, this road was almost scary, but it was widened for the great event, as it is the main route to Whistler. It’s a fabulous drive, and doubly so on a sunny day. Fasten your seat belts because the scenery is breath-taking: the sea, the mountains, and the open road. What could be better?

Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway

The Thousand Islands Parkway in southern Ontario: the best part of driving east from Toronto to Montreal or to New England is the glorious stretch of this route. Get off Highway  401 and see the great St. Lawrence River. On a good day you might see lake freighters up close. The park itself is a blessed place to stop for a picnic and enjoy a sunny summer noon hour, with a serene view out over the river. It’s such a relief from the speed of the superhighway that you will wish your entire trip was on this lovely road.

St. Lawrence River around the parkway

Highway 60, Ontario, east from from Huntsville, past Dwight to Whitney, and on to Barry’s Bay, is the road through the province’s Algonquin Park. This drive is a treat at any time, but spectacular in the autumn at the height of the fall colour season. This is classic Canadian Shield country: rocks and trees and lakes. For any Canadian, no matter whether from the city or the county, the scenery on this drive epitomizes all that we love about our country. If you are lucky, you might see deer by the side of the road. If you are unlucky, you might encounter a moose in the dark. (Hitting one of them is tantamount to hitting a brick wall!) Stick with the daytime, and see the glorious tapestry of autumn leaves in Ontario in mid-t0-late September. Side trips to resorts or lodges are highly recommended!

Algonquin Park vistas from Hwy 60

Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This spectacular round trip is a must for anyone who loves the Rocky Mountains. The Fall River Road is not paved and is one way – UP! Also, this road does not open for the season until July 3. (Google this road for info.) At the top you are crossing the Fall River Pass, over 11,000 feet high. There is a Visitors Centre at the top, a good place to stop and take photos. You are in the alpine zone ( it’s tundra up there!) and even in midsummer you are likely to encounter patches of snow. It’s magnificent being surrounded by Rocky Mountains. Then you drive down into the valleys of the national park via the equally spectacular Trail Ridge Road, which requires nerves of steel to negotiate the curves and descents. You will never forget this day trip.

Near the summit of the Trail Ridge Road

photo by Joy Mock, July 2011

Tundra landscape at 11,000 feet on the Trail Ridge Road

Drive up Mt. Baker: If you live in West Vancouver, BC, on a good day you will see Mt. Baker, located in the state of Washington, floating above the horizon when you are looking to the southeast of your city.  You can drive up Mt. Baker, a great day trip from Vancouver. The top parking lot is located at about 8,000 feet, not nearly as high as the Fall River Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park, but still – worth doing! Mt. Baker is one of the ‘inactive’ volcanoes (think Mt. St. Helens to the south) of the west coast of North America. It’s a beauty of a drive.

Happy Motoring!

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Lady’s maid Sally accompanies her mistress to Egypt. Lady Duff Gordon is going to the warm dry climate of Egypt because the lady is a TB patient and the dry air will help to ease her health problems. They settle in Luxor. Time is the mid-1800s, because the Suez Canal is under construction. In this foreign city, where they live in The French House, they have only one assistant, their man who is their “fixer”, Omar. The three of them fall into a cosy routine where class differences fall away. A fast friendship develops between the three of them, but love begins to rear its head. Eventually Omar and  Sally begin a long-lasting secret love affair. Sally ultimately becomes pregnant. She’s about 30 and this is her first experience of sex and love. She is unable tell her lady that she is expecting a child, and conceals her pregnancy for its entire duration. The ultimate arrival of the baby in this household changes the dynamic totally.
The Lady banishes her maid to seclusion, and Sally and her baby are forced to live in isolation. It is a terrible downfall for her. Omar of course has a wife and children back in Cairo, but by law is able to take a second wife.
Will Sally  be able to marry him?  Will she be welcome to live in Cairo with his family?
Well-written book, that evokes both the time and the place. Kind of slow, as nothing much happens for a long time. Gets a 7/10 on my personal scale.

This Canadian novel won the Governor General’s Award for fiction.

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I was cleaning out some books, and this one turned up, destined for recycling. I decided to re-read it instead. I had bought and read this book back in ’75, and had completely forgotten what a great read it is.
Theroux gets on a train in the outskirts of London,and sets off on the rail journey of a lifetime. His plan is to ride trains across Europe and Asia and back through European Russia to eventually reach Holland where he can sail home to England. En route he will meet passengers from every corner of the world, and experience the worst and the best of the world’s railways. Sometimes he travels in crowded or spare compartments, and sometimes he’s riding in luxury. And outside his windows he sees the passing landscapes of Europe and Asia.
The trip through the Khyber Pass area is most interesting compared to the situation today (crucial military area now.) The Japanese trains were models of efficiency (45 second stops at stations were not unusual) whereas the famed Trans-Siberian Express was lengthy and tedious.
This book is a great read, entertaining and informative. It’s a step back in time now, of course.  I found it so interesting to read what each country was like 25 years ago. Many changes. Theroux is a talented descriptive writer, and a great story teller. You will enjoy riding along with him.

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My second year of university (’56-’57) passed uneventfully; that is to say, much like the year before. I continued my weekly Wednesday night attendance at Station Toronto, and the two Sundays a month as well. Marg and I reveled in the fact that we could attend the Christmas party in the Officers Mess. That party came about 6 weeks after I had quit smoking. On the night of the party, I accepted one cigarette from a friend, thinking I could handle it. Nope, I couldn’t. Big mistake. I fell off the wagon and returned to smoking daily. I would not quit again for another 30 years, when I quit once and for all.

The end of the school year arrived, and I had another RCAF summer to enjoy. I was hoping that if I did well, I would be promoted to F/O (Flying Officer.)   My posting for the summer of ’57 was a mixed bag. I had had a great learning experience the previous summer at the Combat Operations Centre, and I hoped for something equally interesting for my third summer. But the Air Force in its wisdom decided that I should get experience in a totally different situation. I was posted for one month to an Intelligence unit on radar station Edgar in southern Ontario. The rest of the summer I was to live at home and work at Station Toronto.

What a different experience the radar station was. It was just far enough away from Toronto, and far enough out in the sticks, that I could not easily get home had I wanted to. There was no handy free station bus running into the big city. Anyone without a car who was posted to Edgar was pretty well stuck out there.

So, that month was focused on work, which was very similar to the work I had done in St Hubert. The staff on the radar station was way smaller than the staff at St Hubert, which was a very large station with diverse duties. At Edgar I had to work shifts, for the one and only time in my life. Working the graveyard shift was an education in itself, and I have, to this day, nothing but admiration for people who work their whole lives on that midnight shift. Working graveyards at Edgar, I learned the true value of strong black coffee.  I’d been drinking my coffee black for the whole previous year, but the Vic coffee shop’s black coffee was as weak as dishwater when compared to the battery acid served up in the wee small hours at Edgar. From that day forth I was able to drink black coffee of any strength, because nothing in civilian life ever came close to that standard.

One highlight of this month was the federal election that happened to take place while I was at Edgar. I had  turned 21 in the spring – I’d reached the age requirement for voting at that time in Canada. I was happy to cast my first-ever vote for the Conservatives. When the results were in, the PC party had won the election (with a minority, if I recall correctly) and we had a new Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker. Along with the rest of the country I celebrated his election. The old Liberal government was tired and deserved to be turfed out. It really was time for a new government. (A year later “Dief” would win his majority.)

My month at Edgar ended, and I returned to Toronto, and to my duties at Station Toronto. My friend Marg had drawn a posting for the entire summer at Station Toronto and she was glad to have me join her. She’d been spending a few hours at the Officers Mess, I guess, because one of the pilots from a fighter squadron was trying to date her and it was looking quite interesting from my viewpoint. The CNE with its annual Airshow began in mid-month, and Marg’s pilot friend had been assigned to fly his jet in the airshow. Of course we had to go down to watch the show, so we at least could tell him we’d seen him do his thing (even though we could not see him, just his jet thundering over our head.)

September ’57 came, and I entered my graduating year at Victoria College, U of T. Sometime during the fall or winter, and I cannot remember exactly when, the imminent end of my air force career was announced. The shocking news came to us that our Intelligence unit was being disbanded by a federal government decision.  The termination came quite quickly, and suddenly our part-time employment was gone. But worse, the camaraderie, and the learning experiences we had been absorbing were ripped from us. The new Conservative government (that I had helped vote into power!) had looked for places to save money, and big cuts in the armed forces reserves were a way for them to save some really serious dollars. It was an ignominious end for a proud unit in the RCAF, and it broke our hearts when we had to turn in our uniforms. By early summer of ’58 it was all over. Marg and 2 other friends left on a graduation trip to Europe, but I could not go. In the middle of their trip, while somewhere in Europe, Marg and Barb, (those two friends of mine who had started this military journey with me) got word from the RCAF, relayed by their parents to them, that the air force wanted their ID cards turned in ASAP!

I had plenty to keep my mind off the sadness of leaving the air force behind.  At the end of the summer of ’58 I would be entering the Ontario College of Education, where I would earn my high school teaching certificate. My new career in  Education would begin, and it would last for 35 years.

Thus ended my 3-year long military career. But it amazes me that even today I still occasionally dream that I have kept my “dress” uniform from the RCAF.

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Our first winter as members of the regular RCAF Reserves passed uneventfully. There was a side effect for me: I stopped going to church with my parents, because every second Sunday I was working at Station Toronto for the day. On the intervening Sundays, I devoted the day to my university studies, reading the assigned texts and the library materials, and writing my essays. But a positive outcome of this winter was that my father let me drive the family car to our Wednesday night “parades” at Station Toronto. Thus before the age of 20, I acquired a lot of driving experience, including night and winter  driving, as a result of his generosity. So the skill of driving was a bonus, in addition to the money that I was earning with this job in the Reserves. As the end of my first year at university approached, I waited to see what I’d be offered by the air force for my summer assignment. But first, the RCAF promoted me. I was elevated to the next level, Leading Air Woman (LAW.)

As my exams ended, the air force came though with my summer posting. I was sent to Quebec! My good friend Judy W., who was a lifelong friend of mine, and had gone through basic training with me, was also sent to the same station. How lucky could we get? On an early June evening, we boarded a train to Montreal, and the next day arrived at our summer posting, the RCAF’s Combat Operations Centre, at St. Hubert, Quebec. The COC was the heart and soul of Air Defence Command. The base itself, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, across from Montreal, was also an active flying base. The jets were CF100 fighters, and our barracks were very close to the flight line. We soon become accustomed to the sound of jets taking off and landing (they were deafening!) and eventually could sleep through anything. The base post office, a tiny shack, was located right beside the flight line, and to get one’s mail, one had to go to the edge of the flight line, no matter if the planes were taking off, and the decibel level was off the scale. It was kind of thrilling. We never thought about the permanent damage that probably was occurring in our ears.

We were housed in a barracks for enlisted women. Even though we were university students, we were almost the lowest of the low in rank, but this fact did not bother us. In fact, it was an education, of sorts. In that barracks, I met young women from all over Canada. Many of them came from poor areas, or from families that could not afford to educate them any higher than say, Grade 10 or 11. Many of them were coarse, tough women, but some were gentle and friendly. Here for the first time I encountered women who swore at the drop of a hat, women who spoke crudely about the men they had their eyes on, and other women who were lesbians and didn’t hide the fact. It was not unusual to see two women sleeping together in a single cubicle, the air force not having provided its enlisted women’s quarters with doors. I quickly came to accept all of this as part of my life education.

Our work was interesting. The internal window of the Intelligence unit overlooked the main operations room in the Combat Operations Centre. This, you must remember, was in the days before computers were used in everyday life. The room contained a huge horizontal map which was basically a giant Canada-shaped table that filled the room.  Model aircraft rested on this map, according to where they were currently located in their flights. You may have seen a similar set up in some WW2 air force movie. This was extremely low tech. The positions of overflying aircraft were received by radar, but that was the only “tech” part. There was literally a squad of lower ranks whose job it was to walk around the map, with long sticks, to push the aircraft models to their new locations! Any of the officers who were in charge of defending Canada’s borders could look at the map and see where any military or unknown aircraft were invading our space. Daily, Russian aircraft would fly over the North Pole and sniff at our northern coastlines. No foreign aircraft ever DID anything, but it was interesting to watch them. In the Intelligence unit, we read maps, watched the action in the Ops centre below, we analyzed data, and we communicated by teletype with flying bases elsewhere in Canada. I soon picked up another new skill, operating the teletype machine. Possibly this is where my love of technology began, because I loved working with that machine.

One of my classmates, Barb M, had been posted to Bagotville, Quebec (another fighter base) for the summer, and she too was in Intelligence, and had access to the teletype there. We sent brief messages to each other almost every day. When our first-year results from U of T were published in the Globe and Mail, I quickly sent her a message that she, like me, had passed the first year very successfully. In our off-time at St. Hubert, we attended the social life of the “other ranks” on the base. This was the summer of Elvis Presley’s first big hit, and we danced away many a summer night. Neither Judy nor I drank beer, so quite possibly we were the only sober people on the dance floor. on any given night. The other ranks did put away vast quantities of beer every night. Another drink much favoured in St. Hubert was “apple jack.” Lying not far to the south of the base was a fertile area of orchards and farmlands. The farmers down there produced vast quantities of  alcoholic cider, and a common early evening jaunt of the men was to drive down there and buy apple jack. (I hated the stuff.) Much drunkenness would ensue, but I never saw anyone show up hungover at the morning parade.

Several times on my day off I took the station’s bus into downtown Montreal. That was a new experience too, to be in a large city not my own, with the freedom to go explore. All I had to do was get back to the bus on time. One stellar event of this summer was the trip to Halifax that Judy and I managed to snag. Somehow we found out that there was a DC3 flying to Halifax and back over the weekend and that we could catch a ride on it. We both had family in Halifax: Judy’s grandmother lived next door to my great-aunt Olive (Halifax was not that big then.) We jumped at the chance to ride a DC3 and to get away for the weekend, not to mention the chance to see our relatives. This was a gruelling trip, for the DC3, left over from the war, had no amenities, not even a WC. There was a bucket at the back of the plane for anyone who was desperate. Well, we got desperate, but there was no way we were using that bucket. So we crossed our legs and waited for our pit stop en route. When the plane landed, we ran like the wind for the nearest washroom, which was located in a hanger. (Need I mention that the pilots were killing themselves laughing at our discomfort?) In spite of this unforgettable incident, we had a great weekend.

St. Hubert had a lovely outdoor swimming pool, and around that pool we met other university students from across Canada. However, they were cadets, and ranked with the officers, because they had joined the ROTC when they entered university. ROTC paid for their post-secondary education, but also committed them to about 3 years in the regular forces after they graduated. So we could be friends around the pool, but because of the difference in rank, we could not socialize with them at any other time, and none of them were in the Intelligence unit.

But this  rank difference would change with the advent of our next year in the air force. By midwinter of my second year at U of T, I was promoted again. I was elevated into the ranks of the officers, and my designation was Pilot Officer (P/O– the lowest rank of the officers in the RCAF.) My father was so proud of me and my promotion. I was thrilled with the big increase in income that my promotion had earned me. I liked my new rank a lot, as it gave me access to the Officers Mess. The winter of ’56-’57 progressed much like the previous winter. My friend Marg, also from my class (both high school and basic training) had been promoted just before I was, and so we were able to hang together at any event for Officers. We now had a whole new circle of friends, because in the Officers Mess we met all the pilots (some in the Reserves and some in the permanent force) who were stationed at Downsview, the main air force base in Toronto.

During this school year, Marg and I were lucky to be invited along on a couple of long flights. The planes were flying empty for one reason or another, either one way or both ways. Pilots looking to enliven their flights seemed to have no trouble adding a body or two to the “crew” list. The first flight we made was an overnight trip to Cold Lake, Alberta. A fighter squadron was being posted to Cold Lake, which is where the vast training area for fighter jets is located. They need space over unpopulated areas to practice their gunnery. When the fighters move, the whole squadron, including support staff, goes with them. So we rode along with them. On this first flight we traveled on a cloudless day and the whole panorama of the great Canadian prairie was spread out below us in unforgettable patterns of green and gold. Our pilot, who was doing his best to hustle Marg, brought the plane down lower than usual so we could get a good look at the prairie. In Cold Lake we were given sleeping space in the Bachelor Officers Quarters (the BOQ) but I think we only changed our clothes there. I recall that we went to the mess and socialized with the pilots, and later in the night we all went into the town of Cold Lake itself and around 3 a.m. had Chinese food at an all-night diner. We never did catch any sleep, because we had an early start in the morning and we did not dare miss our flight back to our home base.

That long flight home was uneventful until we were in the North Bay area. There we encountered a frightening electrical storm that tossed our aircraft around the sky. The lightning flashed over and over again, and lit up the belly of the Packet with a thousand watts of light. We flew right through the middle of the storm. There was nothing to do but pray that the plane would not shake apart and that we would fly out of the storm quickly. It was one of the scariest moments of my life but our pilot “Dad” got us through the storm unscathed. He was not embarrassed to say when it was over that it had been tough for him too.

During this time, I was lucky to meet some pilots in the Officers Mess who were quite willing to advance my flight education. I counted myself lucky to get a flight in a Harvard trainer. It was really a fun experience, going up to Downsview and getting kitted out with a parachute, and flying off into the blue skies over Toronto. We flew around for about 30 minutes. My pilot was a Reservist who was accumulating time to keep up his standing.

Another flight I had out of Downsview was in a Navy plane, and it was a much longer flight. This pilot really needed to rack up some hours to keep his credentials, and he flew us along the Lake Ontario shoreline at a fairly low level, all the way to Kingston and back. Both of these flights were in WW2 aircraft that were two-seaters. Now they show up in the CNE’s International Airshow as antiques, of course.

My second trip with Marg was in a C119 (a “Packet”) to Greenwood NS and onwards to Newfoundland. The flight crew’s assignment was to pick up a bunch of air cadets who had been at their summer training camp in NS and fly them back to St John’s, where they lived. On this trip we experienced the Officers Mess in Greenwood,  which event was marked by being given “Grasshoppers” to drink. Yikes, they were disgusting mixed liqueur drinks. We hated them with a passion and soon dumped them into the nearest potted plants. We did have a bit of a fun time, being taken to a corn roast somewhere near the Bay of Fundy. It was dark and we could smell salt water. We were cold sober, but that’s about all we could identify.

The next morning the crew loaded up the cadets and off we went to NF. When we went into the landing approach, our pilot  (Dad again) was training “George,” our co-pilot, who was a Reservist and need to get some practice in to keep up his qualifications. Both Marg and I were sitting (as usual) in the cockpit as the training began. George had to bring the plane in (flying blind) on instruments (IFR) not visuals (VFR.) Dad arranged a visor covered in what appeared to be silver foil, and placed it so that it covered George’s side of the windscreen, and passed the controls to George. He seemed to be doing well, except the other three of us could see that he was way off to the side of the runway. Dad gave George plenty of time to correct the problem, but he had no clue he was not lined up correctly. Marg and I watched in silence and trusted that Dad would make sure that we did not prang in the adjoining field. Dad grabbed the controls back at the last moment, and lined us up just seconds before the plane touched down on the runway. Whew, good landing, but George was embarrassed. If nothing else, these two experiences taught me to trust the pilot.

(to be continued)

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