Posts Tagged ‘Ottawa’


We’ve been enjoying a string of beautiful fall days. I’m not a huge fan of fall, mostly because autumn means winter is around the corner. However, there is no denying that some of the most gorgeous days of the year come along in this shoulder season. On Sunday, it was too nice to stay inside. After getting some chores looked after, we headed up to Nepean, at the edge of Ottawa.


With an inviting array of 100 km of trails, the National Capital Greenbelt offers hikers many choices. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we explored a couple of the shorter loops. The Sarsaparilla Trail is an easy hike on a level, gravelled pathway. It is just .8 km long, but it proved to be very rewarding.


The trail circles through attractive, open woodland with many beautiful big trees. The Y in this tree was clearly a favorite posing spot for hikers. A large branch was propped up behind the tree so that photo subjects could climb up to the opening.


Near the trailhead, we looked up, way up, and saw two dark shapes in a treetop: two porcupines dreaming in the afternoon sun high above hikers.


Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail and this probably explains the dozens of chipmunks that dart boldly across the trail.


There were also squirrels, both little red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and their larger cousins, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Black squirrels are just a different colour morph of gray squirrels, not a separate species.



About half way around the loop, the trail opens onto a deck overlooking a large wetland.


As we stepped out onto the lookout deck, ducks and geese hurriedly retreated to a safer distance.


We gazed out over the water, admiring the sun sparkling on the surface. At the far side of the swamp, there was a tall white bird, a Great Egret (Ardea alba), not a common species in this region. Cool!


Near the parking lot, was an inviting picnic pavilion. We were struck by how perfect the Sarsaparilla Trail is for introducing young children to nature and hiking. It offers a short, easily traversed trail, plenty of little critters, an interesting lookout over water, and a great place for a picnic.


We had time for another trail, and travelled a short distance to the nearby Beaver Trail loop on Moodie Road. The Wild Bird Care Centre is near the trail parking lot. It is open to the public between noon and 3:00 PM, and an interesting place to visit. For more information, visit their website at Wild Bird Care Centre.org.


Like the Sarsaparilla Trail, the Beaver Trail loops through open woodland and leads to another wetland lookout.


Here and there along the trail were little caches of mixed seed and sunflower seed left behind by visitors. Near the lookout, a family with two youngsters were feeding chickadees. The young girl kindly stood patiently until I was able to get a photograph of one of the chickadees helping himself to a seed from her outstretched hand.


Chickadees and nuthatches were flitting about near the trail, obviously accustomed to handouts. Another time, we’ll take some sunflower seed or peanuts with us. Both these trails had a number of families visiting, which was nice to see.


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Monday was Family Day here in Ontario. The statutory holiday, celebrated on the third Monday of February, was added to the calendar a few years ago to give long-suffering Ontarians a little break from the mid-winter doldrums. By the middle of February, the snow/cold thing has gotten old, very old. First observed in 2008, Family Day has been embraced with enthusiasm. This year, Monday was a very pleasant winter day and gave families a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy the winter, at least for a day. It was reported on the radio that Ottawa’s Winterlude celebrations were well-attended. RailGuy and I celebrated with a visit to BirdGirl and a walk in the Hundred Acre Woods with our daughter and Raven, the Grandog.

We haven’t had a major snowstorm recently. It seems Washington has been taking the brunt of winter. The snow remaining in the woods had a bit of a crust on it and walking was easy. We enjoyed a very pleasant stroll, as did Raven, who you can see dashing ahead in the photo above. My eye was drawn to a number of beautiful, large yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) trees we passed. The forest features a mix of evergreen species and deciduous trees. The bark of the yellow birch trees makes them easy to identify.

The reason why yellow birch is also known as curly birch is obvious. Perhaps not quite as well-known as paper birch, with it’s conspicuous white bark, the yellow birch is a common tree of temperate, northern forests, although agriculture and forestry have taken a toll on the yellow birch population. It rarely grows in large stands. Rather, it is likely to be found keeping company with hemlocks and sugar maples. Beech, white ash and white pine are also common neighbours. The largest of the birch species, yellow birch can reach a diameter of 90 cm (36 inches) or more and may live as long as 300 years. It prefers moist, fertile soil and sometimes grows along the edge of swamps.

Yellow birch trees produce seeds that are enjoyed by finches and other wintering birds, with a bountiful crop occuring every three years or so. In spite of the large number of seeds it produces, yellow birch may have trouble getting started. Seeds need a clear spot of ground or a rotted log to thrive. Where it grows with maples, the mat of maple leaves, which don’t decompose readily, may prevent tiny seedlings from sinking their roots into the soil, and the youngsters perish.

Woodpeckers may seek out a birch with a decaying core to excavate a nest site. Yellow birch saplings are a favorite of deer and porcupines enjoy the aromatic bark of mature trees. Even people may enjoy the twigs of yellow birch, which, along with those of cherry birch (a southern species), are a source of oil of wintergreen (methyl salicylate). The twigs can be used to brew wintergreen tea. At one time, the wintergreen used in gum and toothpaste was extracted from birch trees. It is now produced synthetically.

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Nellie McClung (left) and Irene Parlby

Although women in Canada achieved the right to vote in 1917, many of the improvements to the status of women that first-wave feminists no doubt hoped would follow were slow in arriving. Indeed, achieving equal rights to those of men has been a tedious journey and has required the ongoing persistent effort of countless women over the past century.

When I began work in a large Toronto office in 1970, the young man seated at the desk next to mine, who was hired after I was, and was performing exactly the same chores, was rewarded with a bigger paycheque at the end of the week, simply because he was male. Things have changed since then, but women are still under-represented in highly-paid positions.

One of the steps along the road came when women fought to be recognized as persons. You’d think this was self-evident, but Prime Minister Robert Borden, and then Prime Minister Arthur Meighen and their governments maintained otherwise. They argued that the 1867 British North America Act prevented women from holding seats in the federal Senate because Section 24 of the act stated that only “qualified persons” might be called to the Senate, and a British court had ruled that women were “persons in matters of pains and penalties, but not persons in matters of rights and privileges.”

Emily Murphy, an Edmonton magistrate, had campaigned for years for government institutions to open their doors to women. A clause in the Supreme Court Act stated that five citizens could petition for an interpretation of a part of the BNA Act if the minister of justice supported the request for a ruling. In 1927, Murphy was joined by Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, all active participants in women’s organizations, in petitioning the Supreme Court.

Henrietta Muir Edwards (left) and Louise McKinney

On April 24th, 1928, Chief Justice Anglin handed down an opinion. He held that since women did not hold public office in 1867, the BNA authors could not have intended that women would be eligible to sit in the Senate. Therefore, women were barred from sitting in the Senate. In short, women were not to be allowed to sit in the Senate because they never had.

Murphy and her companions appealed the matter to a higher court: the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Westminster, England. In October of 1929, British lord chancellor Lord Sankey stated that the BNA Act was capable of growth. A liberal interpretaion of the act was espoused and he concluded that the word “persons” includes members of both the male and female sex. Therefore, women were eligible to be summoned to the Senate of Canada. This year, 2009, marks the 80th anniversary of the decision.

A commemorative statue remembers this important moment in the history of the Canadian women’s movement. Unveiled in October of 2000, the monument is situated on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The larger-than-life sculptures were completed by Edmonton artist Barbara Paterson and were donated to the Government of Canada by the Famous 5 Foundation. The Famous Five are portrayed as they might have been as they celebrate their victory. Nellie McClung holds up a headline announcing Women are Persons! At her side, Irene Parlby looks on. Emily Murphy stands by her chair, while Louise McKinney clasps her hands and Henrietta Muir Edwards raises her cup in acknowledgment of the victory.

Unlike most of the monuments on Parliament Hill, which are formal and conventional, the Women are Persons tribute invites visitors to join the women, even sit down with them and celebrate their achievement. It’s a lovely remembrance of five important persons.

Emily Murphy

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In addition to seeing the Shay locomotive, we visited the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa to visit the Karsh exhibit, Festival Karsh. The exhibit celebrates the life and work of Canada’s most famous photographer, Yousuf Karsh, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Born in Marden, Turkey on December 23, 1908, Karsh fled to Syria with his Armenian-descent family in 1922 and in 1924, he emigrated to Canada. He apprenticed with a photographer in Boston and ended his career many years later as one of the world’s leading portrait photographers. It could be said that anybody who was anyone sat for Karsh. One of his most iconic works, used on the cover of Life and Saturday Night magazines, was his portrait of Winston Churchill.


The exhibit features an interesting display of many of his better know works, portraits of famous men and women such as Grey Owl, above, and Einstein, below.


Some of the equipment Karsh utilized is on display. Karsh set up a studio on Sparks Street in Ottawa, where his business thrived. He also had equipment that travelled with him as he journeyed abroad to accommodate famous sitters who couldn’t arrange to come to his Ottawa studio.


Karsh retired in 1992. Over six decades of work, he photographed more than 15,000 local, national and international sitters. He died on July 13, 2002, at the age of 93.


One playful aspect of the exhibit is a mock studio that allows visitors to try their hand at portrait photography, adjusting the lighting and camera focus to photograph a friend and email the resulting portrait to their chosen address. A young woman volunteered to take our photograph.


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On the weekend, RailGuy and I visited the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. One of the attractions we went to see was this Shay locomotive. Over the summer months, the engine operates a couple of times a week and we wanted to catch it before the summer was over, an inevitability drawing frighteningly closer every day. A Shay is a type of locomotive that uses reduction gearing in the drivetrain, as opposed to the common directly-driven design. The Shay locomotive takes its name from Ephraim Shay (1839-1916), who was a logger in Michigan in the 1860s. He developed the first Shay locomotive to take logs to market as an alternative to floating them down a river. The Lima Locomotive Works, of Lima, Ohio, began building Shays, adapted from Ephraim Shay’s original idea, in 1878. Between 1878 and 1945, 2768 Shay locomotives were built by Lima. Only 115 are known to survive today.


The Museum’s Shay has parts from two engines (No. 3 and No. 4) built by Lima in 1923 and 1925 for the Merrill & Ring Lumber Co. Ltd, based in Squamish. The engines were used in their forestry operations at Theodosia Arm on the British Columbia mainland. When Merrill & Ring closed their Squamish operations, the engines were sold to the Comox Logging and Railway Company and moved to Vancouver Island in May of 1942. By 1951, the boiler from engine No. 3 was transferred to the frame of No. 4 as the best of aging parts were salvaged to keep one good engine running. In 1951 the refurbished locomotive was transferred to Duncan Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, where it was put to work at the Elk Falls pulp mill. It remained there until it was taken out of service in 1974.


Thereafter, the locomotive was donated to the Museum by Crown Zellerbach and shipped to Ottawa by flat car. Restoration of the engine began in 1975. The locomotive was dismantled down to its frame and many parts were repaired or replaced. It was not until August of 1995 that the restoration was completed.

Noticing RailGuy admiring the locomotive, the engineer invited him aboard and he enjoyed a trip down the rails and back in the engine cab.


Engineer Gerry and Fireman John are among the many volunteers who have donated their time and knowledge to the restoration and operation of the Shay engine. More than 5000 hours of work were required to complete the restoration. The Museum receives ongoing assistance and support from the Bytown Railway Society.


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One of the most beautiful of spring-blooming shrubs is also an old favorite, the Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris). Lilacs are members of the olive family (Oleaceae), along with olive trees, forsythia and jasmine. Syringa vulgaris is native to southeastern Europe. There are no lilac species native to North America, but lilacs were one of the most common plants brought to the new world by pioneer settlers. In fact, a large lilac bush can often be found, still blooming each spring, near the remains of old homesteads, living evidence of a once-loved home. Such is the case with the handsome shrub picture above, growing east of Willow House.

In the 1800s, the breeding of lilacs became popular and by 1900, so many of the better cultivars came from France that the term “French Hybrid” is often used to describe all cultivars of the common lilac, even though many were bred in other European countries or North America.


Lilacs have an Ottawa connection. Isabella Preston (1881-1965) was born in England and at the age of 30, she moved to Guelph, where she studied at the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph). In 1920, she was hired by the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa to establish a breeding program for ornamental plants. Although she also worked with roses, lilies, and other ornamentals, some of her best results were with lilacs. She eventually introduced 47 cultivars, including “Agnes Smith”, above. In December of 1946, Preston, pictured below, retired and, after a year in Britain, moved to Georgetown, Ontario, where she continued to garden. (Photo of Isabella Preston from Friends of the Farm.)


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