Archive | August, 2012

Setting Sail for Nova Scotia

28 Aug

Avast ye, mateys! Lower the sails and drop the anchor. We approach a new land.

Aye aye, captain! Though we did not land in the port city of Halifax, we did spend a few days there. Anya’s friend Hamdi showed us the multitudinous ice cream and drinking establishments. We also went for a stroll along the vibrant waterfront boardwalk.

We even explored the Halifax harbour on a 30-foot sailboat, circling around Georges Island. The island has a fort and many, many snakes. We are told that an underground tunnel connects the island’s fort to the Citadel, which towers over Halifax.

It was time to replace our chains again, and we stopped by the Bike Pedaler bike shop in Dartmouth. The shop is involved in promoting cycling culture. For example, they have free bike parking for anyone working in downtown Dartmouth.

The shop owner, Marc, told us about an unfortunate new law that has aggravated cyclist-driver relations: drivers must give cyclists 1m distance when passing. The law is not enforced and cannot be regulated: even evidence like helmet camera footage cannot be used in court, although some have tried it. With the passing of the law, drivers feel like they’ve had some privileges taken away from them and now drive more aggressively, giving cyclists even less space when passing them and generally being unfriendly.

We took the scenic route out of Halifax, passing through the Salt Marsh and Shearwater Flyer trails. The trails are part of the Trans Canada Trail and are built on the old railbed. Birds love the salt marsh and you can see them feeding on small aquatic life. It’s also neat to see the tides rush through the narrow spots and into the shallow warm pools of the salt marsh.

In Antigonish we stayed with the Ten Brinkes: Charlie, Ronny, and the kids. They’re actually a family of 5, it’s just part of their last name! Charlie is really energetic and inspiring lady who’s involved in everything. Between working at the university, getting the kids to hockey practice and such, cooking for the family, and acting with a dinner theatre troupe, she also does a tonne of sustainability stuff.

The Ten Brinkes live just outside town, on a big beautiful piece of land. It hasn’t always been this nice: they built the house themselves and transformed the property from a rocky, rather barren field to a wooded area and garden. Charlie loves the trees and made a network of hiking trails for the kids. The wild critters love the trees too, and at one point Charlie had her yard certified with the Backyard Habitat Program. At the time, she ran a daycare where the kids could play around and connect with nature. Her two boys, Jesse and Jamie, have a fort in the trees. Charlie helped them build it using recycled materials.

Charlie also grows herbs and vegetables in her yard, to avoid the rising food prices. Feeding three kids is not cheap, especially if you want to give them fresh, organic vegetables. She also involves the kids in gardening. The two boys each have their own square of vegetable garden. At first, it was just a small patch, but this year they asked for a bigger area and now have a considerable garden plot each. Charlie says the boys feel very proud when the family eats vegetables from their garden plots.

In Antigonish there is a small but dedicated group of people who organize various talks and events to promote sustainabiity. The group is great for exchanging ideas, but as Charlie tells us, they have trouble reaching out to the rest of the community and getting them to see the importance of moving towards a sustainable lifestyle. Case in point: Charlie and Ronny recently hosted a 200-person picnic and Charlie decided she wouldn’t use any single-use dishes.

Yes, read that sentence again. 200 people. No plastic cups, plates, or anything. Let it sink in.

Anyway, Charlie said that people were so used to disposable dishes and so unaware of what she was trying to do that some of them threw her dishes in the garbage. She had to fish through the garbage at the end of the event to get her dishes back. These are the challenges she and the Antigonish sustainability crowd is up against.

With her kids, of course, it’s a different story: day in and day out, Charlie teaches them about recycling and not wasting water or electricity. Some days the kids still throw the compost in the garbage or leave the lights on in the entire house. But it’s not about getting it right each time, it’s about creating consciousness/awareness and instilling values. Charlie hopes to make the kids think about sustainability because she believes it’s important to their generation.

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The Microprovince

26 Aug

We hereby claim intellectual property rights on “PEI is so small” jokes. For example:

PEI is so small that the bridge to the island is bigger than the island itself!

PEI is so small that if someone doesn’t know you, they’ll ask your last name because they probably know your relatives! Actually, this one’s not a joke. But it’s still funny!

PEI is so small that it doesn’t have a provincial welcome sign. Wait, that’s not a joke either. We did not find any provincial welcome signs. We had to take a picture at Granny’s Tea Room instead:

The tea room is conveniently situated just off the Confederation Trail, a cyclist’s paradise. It’s an impeccably-maintained gravel path, built atop the old railroad. It covers the entire island and is used by pedestrians, cyclists, and cross-country skiers in the wintertime. It inherits the convenient railroad grade, avoiding PEI’s many hills.

On our first of two nights on the island, we couchsurfed with Sebastian and his mom, Marianne. Marianne has an amazing food garden in her yard, as well as a chicken coop. She’s got two kinds of chickens: some for laying eggs and some for eating. We were there at just the right time: the chickens had just been slaughtered and we ate really fresh chicken for dinner. Marianne grows enough food for two and a half households. She does a lot of food preserving so that she has food from the garden through the winter months. This involves freezing the chickens and preserving a lot of the vegetables.

Sebastian is in PEI for the summer working on an organic farm, but lives in Halifax for the rest of the year. He travels between Halifax and PEI a lot, but since he doesn’t have a car, he hitchhikes or takes the bus. However, the inter-provincial bus company providing service to the Maritime provinces, Acadian Bus Lines, will stop running this November. This will significantly limit the travel options between cities for people who do not own cars and will certainly increase traffic.

Sebastian has also done tree-planting in New Brunswick and mentioned that a lot of forest there is owned by the Irvings. As Amanda told us earlier, in the Maritimes there are several powerful families with a lot of money who own a lot of land and businesses. The Irvings are one such family. They started out with just a few gas stations, but now they own most of the forests, mills, trucking companies, gas stations, and newspapers. Since the Irvings own the entirety of the newspaper business, from the raw material to production and distribution, it is difficult to get independent newspapers in these provinces. Of course, the Irving-owned news media is biased in reporting on Irving-owned industries.

On our second day on the island, we visited Charlottetown. We met Guy, a guitarist from Montreal who comes to Charlottetown for the summer to busk. He asked us to watch his guitar and amp while he went to grab a snack.  When he came back, he had some cool drinks for us. We ended up talking to him, sitting around for a few hours enjoying the sun and the sea. It all ended with Guy passing the guitar to Maria, and her classical tunes brought in some cash. Still got it!

L’Acadie Sur Mon Bike, C’est Awesome

18 Aug

Tour de Sustainability’s team has temporarily increased in numbers. Amanda, one of the original team members, joined us for the weekend. As luck would have it, just then we hit three consecutive days of rain and headwind, after weeks and weeks of good weather. In 4 days Amanda covered 471km, without prior training — impressive! Stay tuned for her side of the story: she’ll be writing a guest entry in our blog.

As we headed further south-east, towards Acadia, the French accents became less and less intelligible to our untrained ears. Thankfully, Amanda, who is New Brunswick born and raised, is bilingual. As our local tour guide she made sure we visited all the not-to-be-missed spots, and she also taught us how to eat this traditional NB snack food. Believe us, it requires a special skill.

In Charlo we stopped for lunch in a quaint seaside restaurant called Le Moulin A Café. Amanda was very eager to get a copy of the paper, because she was supposed to be in it. By coincidence, the paper also had an article about the restaurant, as well as a bike event that we saw along the way! Talk about relevant news.

To translate and summarize: back in Moncton, Amanda and five others are opening a co-operatively owned bike shop, La Bikery. Members will have access to the shop and tools, a cheaper and more hands-on option for basic repairs and maintenance. This will make it easier for budget-conscious people to cycle more and let people practice their bike mechanics skills. La Bikery will also promote cycling culture in the Moncton area by putting on bike mechanics workshops and cycling events.

Our arrival in Moncton was timed just right for August 15 – La Fête Nationale D’Acadie! On this day, Acadians wave their flags and there is a parade called the Tintamarre, with everybody making lots of noise, whether it’s with the traditional pots and pans or some party noise toys from the dollar store.

Where the parade ends, the afterparty begins. We biked to the nearby Dieppe for their superior afterparty, and got to hear some awesome music live including the Hay Babies and Radio Radio, who sing in Shiac, a dialect of French that’s only found here. We also got to hear a little too much of the extremely popular Cayouche. And we felt like real Acadiens:

The Fertile Banks of the St. Lawrence

14 Aug

Cycle touring is great because you often stay in rural places. Our St-Vallier hosts, Dany and Maïté, live in a part of town that’s not even connected to the town’s water supply. The house’s water comes from their well, but it’s not pleasant to drink because of a light sulphur odour. Many people purchase expensive filtration systems, but Dany and Maïté make trips to the nearby woods where there is a natural spring, and get their drinking water from there. Just what we needed after a full day of cycling in the sun!

Maïté has a beautiful vegetable garden in their backyard. She grows variety of veggies including some extra large and very tasty zucchinis. She was full of creative ideas for her garden.

Maïté figured out a three-stage compost system that’s suitable to their house. First, they collect the compost in a bin. Once the bin is full, usually after a year, they transfer it to a raised bed; this year, she planted some zucchinis and geraniums on it for aesthetic appeal. After another year, the ready compost goes into the garden.

The family does without a lawnmower. In the spring, they buy some rabbits and set the rabbit cage on the grass. Once that area has been ‘mowed’ they move the cage to the next area. In the fall, they eat the rabbits, although their 5-year-old son, Matéo, doesn’t know that yet, but is starting to catch on that the rabbits each year are different and it makes him sad.

They also do without herbicides for killing dandelions, and in the early summer their lawn turns bright yellow. Instead of stressing about it and working against nature, they enjoy it.

When you come to a small town on a weeknight, you don’t necessarily expect a beach party. But that’s what we found in Kamouraska. Our hosts, garlic growers from the nearby St-Germain, were celebrating a friend’s birthday, and we were invited!

At the afterparty, we talked to Jesse, who works for Greenpeace. He is cycling around Quebec with a colleague, encouraging people to get involved with Greenpeace. Many people have been very receptive and welcoming, he tells us. However, in Canada people are reluctant in having convesation about the environment: many of them have jobs in industries like mining or oil extraction that are damaging to the environment. So they feel a bit guilty or responsible and do not want to get themselves into a conversation where they will be blamed or accused.

One of the friends had recently butchered his goat, and some of its meat was roasting over the fire. Our conversation naturally turned to food. Jesse had grown up on an organic farm, where fresh, organic meat was a big part of his diet. When he moved away, he realized that grocery store meat is not nearly as good as what he had been eating all his life. He gradually learned to eat mostly vegetarian and stopped buying meat. But Jesse does not promote strict vegetarian diets: he likes to challenge vegans and vegetarians on their values. For example, can a vegetarian eat roadkill, which already died anyway, and is going to waste?

One day Jesse would like to learn to hunt. He says if people got their meat hunting, they would better understand the value and ecological context of the meat they were eating, and would adapt their diet accordingly.

Fruits and Vegetables du Terroir

10 Aug

After two culture filled rest days in Montreal,  we stayed with Cedric and Anika in Joliette. Cedric works at the farm market and gets fresh local vegetables, which we got to try in the form of tasty homemade quiche by Anika. The farm market is unusual because people order their food online. On pickup day, the farmers bring the requested goods to the market, and people come to pick up their orders. As Cedric explains, this helps the local economy and in particular, the local farmers.

What better way to get to a car race than on a bicycle? We arrived in Trois-Rivières just in time for the Grand Prix, and the sound of racing cars created a constant background noise during our stay. Our hosts, Sharon and André, were not very pleased with the route of the race track, as it passes between the seniors’ homes and the hospital.

In response to hearing about the Tour de Sustainability project, Sharon told us a story she read in the paper. In Drummondville, a couple decided to grow their own vegetables to start eating healthier food, and the only place sunny enough was their front yard. After a season’s worth of hard work, they set up a wonderful garden. But the municipality has a law requiring 30% of the front yard to be grass, so they were told to remove the garden and put back the lawn. The couple is fighting with the municipality for their garden, but the prospects are grim: the municipality is planning to introduce a law banning all vegetable gardens in front yards.

The story seemed to have gone viral, and a lot of our hosts had opinions about it. As Sharon and André said, the people who had vegetable gardens in their backyards sided with the couple: to them, a garden is a beautiful thing. But the others sided with the municipality. Dany, our St-Vallier host, suggested that the ridiculous law is due to conformist mindsets. To some people, it’s just important that everybody’s house and front yard should look the same.

Thanks to Anya’s parents, who came to visit for the long weekend, we were able to go sightseeing in various places along the north shore of the St. Lawrence. We saw Quebec City, Portneuf, and one of the oldest streets in North America.

We also enjoyed some of the produits du terroir (French for local food). For example, we discovered the ground cherry (cerise de terre) at a fruit stand, and found it very addictive. We also tried ground cherry liqueur, which was almost as delicious.

On The Green Path

5 Aug

The Ottawa River, or la Riviere des Outaouais, separates Quebec and Ontario. There is a beautiful cycle path along its shores, extending about 30 km on either side of the capital. We were fortunate to bike into Ottawa on Sunday morning, when several waterfront streets are also closed to cars and open to bikes.

The population on either side of the Ottawa River is a mix of francophones and anglophones, not correlating with provincial boundaries. The Frenchies are a proud people and the ones living in Ontario have their own Franco-Ontarian flag. They certainly have reason for patriotism. Our Warm Showers host, Pierre, stunned us with a four-course dinner with a wine pairing for each course. C’est ça la belle vie!

Santé! We made it to Quebec, the land of poutine and bicycles. Canada’s belle province has a network of designated bike routes, called Routes Vertes, or green paths. Also, there is a designation for lodging and camping called Bienvenue Cyclistes (welcome cyclists) which essentially means that these places are bike-friendly; the campsites can always accommodate cyclists, even if they are fully booked!

 

That’s part of the Route Verte we took into Montreal. Our final stretch was along the Lachine canal, and by that point it was already dark. It seemed like everyone was enjoying the warm summer night: lots of people were out for a stroll, and we even passed by an outdoor cha-cha lesson.

It was an unusual time to be in Montreal: there were actually no festivals going on, except the fireworks, which are just like the ones in Vancouver. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying tourist classics such as street performances, cafes with patios, and cobblestone streets. Although we’ve been to Montreal before and visited the Notre Dame basilica, it was definitely worth seeing again.

Leaving the city, we passed through downtown and were overwhelmed by the cycle traffic: often we’d be waiting at a red light with several other cyclists. Many were riding bikes from Montreal’s famous bike share program, Bixi. A few had ridiculously large loads. Some rode cautiously but most rode like they owned the road, weaving back and forth in the traffic, passing each other and running red lights. (Disclaimer: Tour de Sustainability does not recommend running red lights just because you are riding a bicycle.)

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