2019年12月28日 星期六

Canada Letter: Highlights from a year of traveling across Canada

From the Glenbow in Calgary to The Forks in Winnipeg, a reporter’s list of discoveries made in 2019.

Highlights From a Year of Traveling Across Canada

While it’s not vacation travel, one of the great privileges of my job is regularly seeing various parts of Canada. Often, that means going to places well off the typical tourist track. And, just as frequently, those communities prove to be the most interesting destinations.

The foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta.Ian Austen/The New York Times

On almost every trip, I stumble across discoveries big and small that are completely unrelated to the article that has lured me out. Before going over some highlights from this year, I should note that nearly all the people I approach while on assignment are happy to speak with me and generous with their time.

There are exceptions, of course: in communities at the heart of a major news story where many residents come to feel under siege and retreat, to use an understandable example. And often during interviews anywhere in the country, I run into people who become more open once they learn that I’m Canadian and not, as they had assumed, American. After many years, I’m still not entirely sure what that’s about.

But, on the whole, we are a nation that is welcoming to strangers and keen to tell its stories. And before I go through a partial list of small, but welcome, surprises from my travels, I would like to offer my best wishes to all Canada Letter readers and their families for 2020.


— When time permits, I try to pay at least a quick visit to any history museum I come across. Sometimes that provides context for my stories. It always sates my curiosity.

After many years of not having time during its open hours to visit the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, I finally made it inside this fall.

It’s a great place. But what really distinguishes the Glenbow is its approach to an issue many museums are facing: how to present the story of Indigenous people in Canada within institutions largely built around the experiences of the people who came here from Europe and the rest of the world.

The Glenbow takes several approaches. Most prominent is a large and brilliant gallery in which the Niitsitapi or Blackfoot people tell their own history. It’s worth the price of admission on its own.


In a nearby gallery is a multimedia installation by Kent Monkman, the Toronto artist of Cree ancestry, on the near extinction of the American bison during the 19th century because of overhunting by white settlers.

But the representation of Indigenous people doesn’t stop there. Each of the museum’s other history galleries has a large panel offering “A First Nations Perspective” on a topic.

While reconciliation with Indigenous people remains more of a goal than a reality in Canada, the Glenbow and other museums are at least taking first steps.

The Queen’s Athletic Skating Oval in Sudbury, Ontario.Ian Austen/The New York Times

— Most Canadians know about skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa (crews began flooding its surface earlier this week only to have a thaw undo their efforts). And in recent years, the capital has been in a friendly competition with Winnipeg about which city has the longest or biggest or greatest skating trail.


But while in Sudbury, Ontario, early this year, I discovered that it is also a hub of recreational skating. Not far from my hotel in the Little Britain neighborhood was the Queen’s Athletic Skating Oval. On the snowy evening when I wandered over, the wide and less than perfectly shaped oval, which is surfaced with a Zamboni, was disproportionately being enjoyed by novice adult skaters, many apparently newcomers to Canada as well as skates.

Then out by the campus of Laurentian University, about 1.5 kilometers of Ramsey Lake are cleared and flooded to create a skate path.

Alas, I hadn’t packed my skates before heading to Sudbury so I was only a spectator.

The Forks, Winnipeg’s successful historic lands redevelopment.Ian Austen/The New York Times

— O.K., I was very late to this game but I finally made it to The Forks in Winnipeg this spring. Now arguably best known as the home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the former railway yard where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet has become Winnipeg’s meeting place.

Despite somewhat chilly temperatures when I headed over for dinner on a weekday, the place was packed. But The Forks is not just about eating, shopping and entertainment. Throughout the site, Parks Canada presents its history in various novel ways. The wall beside a path sloping down to the water is lined with an archaeological timeline.

Many cities have projects similar in some aspects to The Forks. Few are as obviously successful.

Trains are back but Lac Mégantic’s downtown is still largely missing.Ian Austen/The New York Times

— This year, I returned to Lac Mégantic, Quebec. I was there six years ago when the explosions and fires set off by the derailment of a runaway oil train killed 47 people and incinerated the community’s lakeside downtown.

I had gone back, along with photographer Ian Willms, as part of a series we call Promises Made that follows up on the aftermath of disasters. The short version is that I found the progress both on rail safety and the rebuilding of Lac Mégantic has been frustratingly slow. You can read the entire report here.

As they were during their time of crisis and despite the lingering trauma, the people I met in Lac Mégantic were hospitable and open.

Because I drove from Ottawa, I brought a bike along. On the day I left town, I rose early to do a 56-kilometer-long variation of a ride around the lake that shares its name with the town. The “Grand Tour,” as it’s called on its route signs, was light on traffic and heavy on spectacular scenery.

Before the fire, tourism was one of Lac Mégantic’s major industries, along with the production of particle board used by Sweden’s most famous retailer to make bookcases and desks. The disaster, however, has kept many visitors away. The scenery, the parks, the lake, the camping, cycling and hiking remain as terrific as Lac Mégantic’s citizens remain welcoming. Pay them a visit if you can.

Trans Canada

L’Express, the Montreal restaurant that defines the bistro in North America.Darren Ell for The New York Times
  • L’Express, the Montreal bistro, is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. But the food writer Brett Anderson writes that “it contains part of the source code for the approachable bistros and brasseries that have transformed American fine dining in the last 25 years.”
  • For Travel, Mike Arnot looked into the electric powered seaplane now being tested by Harbour Air in Vancouver. “Someone was going to do it someday, so it may as well be us,” the small airline’s founder said.
  • When Serge Ibaka, who now plays for the Toronto Raptors, was growing up in the Republic of Congo, he wound up living on the streets and surviving on leftovers from a restaurant. In a terrific profile, Alex Wong describes Ibaka’s recent return, accompanied by the N.B.A. Champions’ trophy, to that Brazzaville restaurant.
  • Also in Food, Amelia Nierenberg highlights the wonders of Top Shelf cookies, by Real Treat of Cochrane, Alberta.
  • Gabriel J.X. Dance used a variety of visual techniques to explain how the Canadian Center for Child Protection in Winnipeg used a computer program named Arachnid to find 1.6 million online images of child sexual abuse and then shut down forums for predators.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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