In the Footsteps of the Polar Explorers

Nicola in SisimutNicola here, reporting on a recent trip to Greenland and Northern Canada in which we cruised part of the North West Passage in the footsteps (or sails!) of early explorers. We flew to Iceland and from there to Greenland, where we joined our ship, the SH Vega at the port of Kangerlussuaq on the west coast. This was an "expedition cruise" but frankly from the first it was clear that we were in for a very different experience from some earlier sailors, who had run out of food and been obliged to eat their own shoes and wear the same clothes for months on end! Our ship was warm, very comfortable and with wonderful food! In addition we were blessed with fine weather for almost all the trip so there was no threat of sea-sickness, thank goodness. 

Greenland is a beautiful place; it reminded me of a bigger, colder version of Highland Scotland. With 80% of the country covered in ice, the population lives Coloured houses on the coastal fringe. When Eric the Red colonised the island in 985AD, the Vikings found it hard to establish their traditional farming lifestyle because only the edges were fertile land. One legend is that he named it Greenland as propaganda to attract settlers! The ancestors of the Inuit peoples who had lived in the area for thousands of years survived largely by hunting and fishing. Their lifestyle was better suited to the conditions than the western new arrivals and although the Vikings hung on there for several hundred years, eventually they left. The modern Greenland is a place of brightly-painted buildings and fascinating history which we explored at the museum in Sisimiut.

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Travels with my History Books

0009 IMG_5019Nicola here, enjoying being back at home after an epic trip to Alaska and Canada. When I travel I do like to read up on the history of the places I'm visiting and to seek out historical sites – museums, old houses, monuments, battlefields, as well as experiencing as much as I can of a place as it is now. So today I'm sharing a bit of a whistle stop travelogue and I hope you enjoy it!

We arrived in Juneau Alaska twenty two hours after setting off from home and gratefully settled Patsy Ann into our beautiful bed and breakfast place. Suitably restored by a long sleep, we went out to explore the city. I guess the first thing that impressed us was the location; it was a gorgeous day and the mountains and the water looked simply stunning. What a beautiful setting the city has as well as a rich history. I thought St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1894, was very striking. It has strong connections to both the native Tinglit and the European settlers, so this was my first history stop. Another quirky bit of Juneau history that I loved was the story of Patsy Ann, a bull terrier who came to the town in 1929. Although she was deaf she could tell when the steamships were coming in and would trot down to the docks to meet them, earning her the title of "Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska!"

0048 IMG_5192From Juneau we travelled up to Skagway on the ferry. Skagway still had something of the rough and ready feel of a frontier town which felt very authentic to the story of the Klondike Gold Rush. The first boatload of prospecters landed there in summer 1897 and by the autumn the town had developed from a row of tents to a place with well-laid-out streets, a number of frame buildings, stores, saloons, gambling houses, dance houses and a population of about 20,000. There were rich stories of lawlessness and profligate behaviour and equally compelling tales of the hardship many prospectors went through on the trail to the gold fields. Some of the old building remain and really conjure the raffish air of the old town. Something I hadn't appreciated though, was that the gold rush was over so quickly; by 1900 it had ended and Skagway was in danger of becoming a ghost town, although the coming of the railroad fortunately gave it a new purpose. We took some photographs in black and white to be in keeping with the historical atmosphere!

Our next stop, via the Alaska Marine Highway, was the city of Wrangell where we were staying for 5 days in the most gorgeous little 0001 IMG_5485 float house in the harbour. As well as giving us the chance to visit the Anan Bear observatory, this stop also took us to the Le Conte Glacier, and the town of Petersburg. We'd never seen bears and the chance to watch them in the wild was amazing. Later in our trip we had the unexpected experience of meeting a bear when we were out on a walk on our own, and fortunately we remembered our bear training! We were behind a barrier when we took this photo, by the way, in case anyone thinks we stopped on the path to take a picture!

RosemalingPetersburg was a very interesting place, like so many other settlements it had been a Tinglit fishing camp for hundreds of years before the European settlers arrived, in this case Norwegians who established a sawmill and cannery. Petersburg is known as "Little Norway" and the Scandinavian influence there is still strong. There's a great little museum, the Clausen Memorial Museum, that has traditional costumes on display and there is also a wonderful tradition of "rosemaling" in the town, which is decorative art that originated in Norway in the 18th century. It's so beautiful! There are painted panels on shops and houses and it's very evocative.

Alaska was wonderful and we'd love to return to travel further north and see more of the state. On this 0462 IMG_6965 occasion though, we were heading south, down to British Columbia. In Vancouver I zoomed in on the Roedde House Museum, which is beautifully restored heritage house in the city's West End. Gustav Roedde settled in Vancouver in 1888 and he became the city's first bookbinder. There was a real appetite for culture and information in the growing city and within 5 years, Gustav had been successful enough to commission the architect Francis Rattenbury to build him a very stylish house! This has been restored and preserved to reflect late Victorian family life and it reflects the age in perfect detail. It feels as though you are stepping back in time when you walk through the front door and as always it's the little details of day to day life that are so fascinating – the children's toys and the family photographs drew me into their lives and even the charred wood over the doorway told the story of Christmas 1913 when the Christmas tree with real candles on it caught fire! Luckily the Vancouver fire department was just round the corner and the fire fighters arrived quickly and saved the house.

0428 IMG_7755On to Toronto, then, via The Canadian, and a four day rail trip across Canada which was awesome. My final historical visit of the holiday was to the Fort York Historic Site, Canada's largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings and the 1813 battle site. I'd used the 1812-1814 war as background in one of my early Regency novels and it was so interesting to remind myself of the history and learn more about it. Fort York has a palpable sense of atmosphere which I think you find at a lot of battle sites. It was quite haunting. Even now, sandwiched between the railway and the freeway, it feels as though you're stepping back in time. I particularly loved the re-enactment of raising the flag and the demonstrations of military music, drill, musketry and artillery, all performed by students in uniforms of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, the soldiers who garrisoned the fort at the end of the War of 1812.

There were so many brilliant aspects to our holiday, both historical and other, that it left us wanting to return to see more of both the US and Canada. Most notable of all were the wonderful people we met along the way, so friendly and generous and helpful to these travellers! it really was a trip of a lifetime and I hope you have enjoyed a peek into some of the historical highlights!


National Days!

by Mary FireworksatWashingtonMonumentJo

Most countries of the world have national days that celebrate their identity. That usually usually means the day that independence was proclaimed, as in the US, or negotiated, as was the case in many countries that had been colonized like much of Africa. But there can be lots of variations.

Hungary, for example, celebrates St. Stephen's Day. The United Kingdom doesn't exactly have a national day, though sometimes the Queen's Official Birthday the second weekend in June is treated as such. (Her birthday is actually April 21st, but the weather is better for speeches and parades in June.) 

However, the UK is composed of four separate countries and they all have celebrations on the day of their patron saints: St. George for England, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. David for Wales, and St. Patrick for Northern Ireland.

A lot of countries have a Constitution Day since creating and affirming a constitution creates a nation in a real sense. (There are Americans who believe crafting and confirming the US Constitution was more vital than declaring independence, and they have a good case for that.)

There are other interesting national days. Albania celebrates Albanian DuckinCanada2Day on November 28th, for example, and it's a celebration of its independence. Alderney, one of Britain's Channel Isles, celebrates Homecoming Day on December 15, which was the day in 1945 when the German occupation ended and islanders who had fled were able to return home.

Our neighbor Canada has a neighboring national day as well: July 1st is Canada Day, which commemorates the 1867 joining of several British colonies into one, the AnniversaryFlagDominion of Canada. Happy 151st birthday, Canada!  Here's a picture of the giant rubber ducky that visited for last year's sesquicentennial celebration. (I love that duck. <G>)

France's national day is Bastille Day, July 14th, and it commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which is considered the beginning of the French Revolution.  France and the US have a lot of history in common Australia_Day 2004 by Philip Whitehouse  Wikipedia Commons

Australia Day is January 26th and commemorates the 1788 landing of the First Fleet of British ships when they arrived in New South Wales and raised the British flag in Sydney Cove, which became the site of the great city of Sydney.

Celebrations are similar around the world. Parades are always popular. In my Maryland county there are three Independence Day parades in different areas of the county, and the timing is staggered so that local politicians can attend all three, riding in convertibles and waving at their constituents, which is about as close as we usually get to them.  Fireworks are definitely popular world wide because–noisy and pretty, something for everyone.  <G>

There are floats and bands and social clubs marching together, but my very favorite local parade entry was the tattooed and bearded biker slowly cruising along on his hog, with his two very well behaved basset hounds draped over the big  fenders. Great fun!

The Fourth of July is also a time for family gatherings and barbecues with hot dogs, hamburgers, and watermelon. From what I've heard from friends in other EiffelTowerFireworks.Pierre.Caradoc.WikipediaCommonscountries, this kind of celebration is global, though the food and drink might vary. 

But mostly, national days are for honoring our countries and the best that is in them. What are your national days, and what do you do on them? Because all nations are special, and we are part of our nations.

Wherever you live, what are your special days and how do you celebrate them?  With pride and gusto, I hope!

Mary Jo


Canada, O Canada!

Celebrationsby Mary Jo

Happy birthday, Canada! Canada Day was actually Saturday, July 1st, but this is one of those big birthdays that end in a zero: Canada is 150 years young!

I grew up in Western New York, quite close to the Canadian border. As a kid, I remember driving over the Rainbow Bridge from Niagara Falls, NY to Niagara Falls, Ontario with a lovely view of the famous falls from the car. (That's the Rainbow Bridge below, lit up at night.)  Of course, lots of Americans grew up close to the Canadian border since it runs 3,000 miles across North America from sea to shining sea.

RainbowBridgeByNightOnce upon a time, Canada and the US were both part of British North America when all the colonies were pretty much separate. (Thirteen of them are now the US.) The French colony of Quebec was a different matter, but in 1763 France ceded it to Britain as a result of the Seven Years War.

America's Independence Day is tomorrow, July 4th, and most of us learned early the story of how the 13 colonies got stroppy with Britain and fought the Revolutionary War, after which those colonies became the United States of America (though really, they could have called it the United Colonies of America. UCA??)

Canada, however, continued as a number of separate colonies for some time, including WikipediaUpper&LowerCanadaUpper Canada and Lower Canada. Looking at this map (from Wikipedia), you'd think Upper Canada would be the green bit because, well, it's upper. But no, in this case upper and lower refer to the mighty St. Lawrence River and "upper" is nearer the headwaters and covered an area this is now the southern part of the Province of Ontario. "Lower Canada" is farther along the river and is the now the southeastern part of the Province of Quebec.

In 1841, Upper and Lower Canada were united into the Province of Canada, which lasted until 1867, when the Dominion of Canada was formed of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. And the 150th anniversary of this act of union is what is now being celebrated.  (Picture below is one I took in a park in St. John, New Brunswick.  Beavers are the national animal of Canada.)

Canada  cats  autumn 2014 012Canada was the first Dominion within the British empire and the name indicated that it was a self-governing entity within the empire. As a side note, a while back I listened to an audiobook course on the history of the British empire, and one of the things that stuck with me was that the British statesmen decided after the American Revolution that Britain had handled the 13 colonies badly, and they needed to do better.

And they did, which is why nations like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others were comfortable staying within the big tent of the British Commonwealth.

There were good reasons for Canada uniting, not least of which was a wariness about all those Canada  cats  autumn 2014 023people south of their border. (Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia, but much of it is so very cold that the population is only about a tenth that of the US.)

One of the hoped-for goals of some Americans in the War of 1812 was to annex Canada, which after all is much closer to the US than Britain is. Very efficient, yes? Well, Canadians were NOT on board with this, and not only because tens of thousands of America loyalists had emigrated to Canada after the American Revolution and they hadn't changed their minds about being part of the United States. (The War of 1812 ended as basically a draw without a significant exchange of territory in either direction.)

There's lots of going back and forth between the US and Canada–we Word Wenches have had two Canadian Wenches, Jo Beverley and now Susanna Kearsley, and our site manager is Melissa Beverley, who lives in Ottawa, the capital of Canada.

AnniversaryFlagWhile Canada and the US are generally pretty good friends, there is a certain amount of caution on the Canadian side. It's rather like a mouse and an elephant sharing a bed. They may be friendly, but when the elephant turns over, the mouse had better be alert! (I'm reminded of the story of a Mexican president who once said, "Pity poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States." <G> I'm sure Canadians sometimes feel the same.)

"The Murdoch Mysteries" is a favorite tv series for me and the Mayhem Consultant. Made in MurdochCanada, it's set in Toronto around 1900 and features a scientifically inclined detective called William Murdoch. The series is great–and now and then the characters show that wariness when arrogant American authorities shows up. <G> (I believe the series is the most popular in Canada.  Yes, Yannick Bisson who plays Murdoch is Very Handsome.  <G>  Yes, there's a very nice romance in the series. )

MapofCanadaCanada has grown and flourished in the last 150 years. Like the US, the country has expanded westward and is now comprised of 10 provinces and 3 territories. (The 10th province, Labrador and Newfoundland didn't become part of Canada until 1949.)

Canada's global image owes much to its long history of peacekeeping missions. The world LIKES Canadians–American backpackers in Europe have been known to attach Canadian flags to their backpacks in order to be received in a friendlier fashion.

DuckinCanada2And now Canada is throwing itself a grand birthday party! Fireworks, parades, speeches–and one giant yellow rubber duck. <G> Six stories high, it was created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who thought of it as a symbol of global unity (and humor). It's hard to look at that duck without smiling. (This image is from the CBC news site and my Toronto friend Ali Cunliffe referred me to it.)

The duck will spend three days in Toronto, then tour other ports in Ontario, bringing smiles wherever it goes, I'm sure. OttawaFireworksPeaceTower

So happy birthday, Canada, and long may you be smiling. I hope the US will always be as good a neighbor to you as you are to us.

Mary Jo


A Canadian duel

BlueJo here. A while ago I shared information about a duel that didn't happen — the Paget/Wellesley affair. This time it's about one that happened and was tragically fatal.

Duels were a real part of the historical setting, up into the Regency and sometimes beyond. There were laws against them, and sometimes a principal who killed his opponent was executed for murder. Occasionally seconds were involved in the action, and even without they could be prosecuted. However, most cases slid by the legal system, in part because the duelers were upper class.

Here's a Wikipedia list of notable duels of the early 19th century in Britain which shows the variety of outcomes.

1803: Captain James Macnamara and Colonel Montgomery; over a dispute between their dogs fighting in Hyde Park. Both were wounded, Montgomery mortally. Macnamara was tried for manslaughter at the Old Bailey but was acquitted.
1804: Captain Best fatally wounded Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford. He died three days later.
1804: A duel was fought on Kersal Moor, Salford in July 1804 between Mr. Jones and Mr. Shakspere Philips. Mr. Jones fired at Mr. Philips without effect and Mr. Philips then fired his pistol in the air, upon which the seconds interfered, the two man shook hands, and honour was satisfied.
1807: Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and James Pauli; both men were wounded.
1808: Major Campbell and Captain Boyd; Major Campbell was tried and executed for killing Captain Boyd.
1809: George Canning and Lord Castlereagh; Canning was slightly wounded.
1815: Daniel O'Connell and Captain John Norcot d'Esterre; d'Esterre was killed.

Of course there was a famous American one.

July 11, 1804: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton; Hamilton was killed.

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