Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Is Here: Victoria, BC launches a special holiday website

Tourism Victoria has come up with a link on its website just for the holidays. Simply called Christmas Is Here, it's the place to go for all things Christmas. The seasonally-themed site provides an online list of Christmas events in and around Victoria -- and they even provide a fun Top 5 Things To Do list.

If you're looking to spend a night or two, book your room online, with nightly rates starting at $50 CAD. Victoria is beautiful during the holidays, with all the lights, music and seasonal events filling the streets and the capital city's various venues.

New this year is the outdoor ice rink at Centennial Square. It was unveiled during the city's annual Christmas tree lighting on Nov. 26, and will be open through Jan. 2, 2012. Hours are Monday-Wednesday, 12-5; Thursday-Saturday, 12-8; Saturday, 11-5, Sunday, 11-5; and 1-3 on holidays. Admissions is $2 -- limited skate rentals are available.

A place I've enjoyed during spring and summer is on my list to visit during the holidays. The Butchart Gardens and its Magic of Christmas opens on Dec. 1, 2011. That day marks the beginning of the 25th season of these festive Christmas displays. To mark the silver anniversary, garden goers born in 1987 will receive complimentary admission from Dec. 1-15, 2011 (bring your ID). Regardless of your age, the gardens will be aglow with tens of thousands of colored lights, including the Twelve Days of Christmas display tucked throughout the gardens. Holiday performances featuring traditional carols and music will be performed in the Piazza daily from 5-9 PM. The Butchart Gardens Light Up Ceremony is Thursday, Dec. 1 at 5 PM and includes free rides on the Rose Carousel. There's also ice skating (and really good food!).

BC Parliament Buildings and Queen Victoria in Victoria, BC
Photo by Sue Frause

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert Tour 2011

It's probably un-Canadian to say that I'm not familiar with Stuart McLean, but that's the category I fall into. A friend dropped off his CD, Stuart McLean at the Vinyl Cafe (The Christmas Concert) so I could take a listen. He thought I'd like him. Well, it's not really my cup of tea, but then I'm not a big fan of Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion, either.

If you've never heard of Stuart McLean, he's a journalist, humorist, best-selling author and host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Cafe. The show has a million+ followers, so he's definitely got his fans. Read his complete bio on CBC's Vinyl Cafe website. And during the holidays, he's touring with the Christmas Concert Tour 2011 across Canada (plus Seattle), starting out in Victoria, BC. Appearing with him is special musical guest Hawksley Workman.
Victoria, British Columbia
Nov. 28, 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM

Royal Theatre 
Nanaimo, British Columbia
Nov. 29, 7 PM

Port Theatre 
Calgary, Alberta
Dec. 1 & Dec. 2, 7:30 PM

Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium 
Banff, Alberta
Dec. 3, 7:30 PM

The Banff Centre 
Edmonton, Alberta
Dec. 4, 2:30 & 7:30 PM

Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium 
Regina, Saskatchewan
Dec. 6, 7 PM

Conexus Arts Centre 
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Dec. 7, 7 PM

TCU Place 
Toronto, Ontario
Dec. 9 & 10 at 7:30 PM, Dec. 11 at 2:30 PM

Sony Centre For The Performing Arts 
Seattle, Washington
Dec. 13, 7:30 PM

Paramount Theatre 
Vancouver, British Columbia
Dec. 14 & !5, 7:30 PM

Orpheum Theatre 
Ottawa, Ontario
Dec. 17 at 2PM and Dec. 18 at 2 PM & 7 PM

National Arts Centre 
Montreal, Quebec
Dec. 19, 7 PM

Place Des Arts - Maisonneuve 
Kitchener, Ontario
Dec. 22 and 23, 7 PM
Centennial Hall 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Strombo's The List: Reasons We Are Thankful for The USA (VIDEO)

Strombo (George Stroumboulopoulos) did a fun Thanksgiving Eve video on CBC's The Hour titled Reasons We Are Thankful For the U.S.  It's a nice nod to all of us south of the 49th Parallel. I think.  Thanks for the shout out, George!

Turkey Photo by Sue Frause

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 Grey Cup Festival Features Football, Cory Monteith, Nickelback

While Americans will be reveling in leftovers following their Thanksgiving dinners, Canadians will have something other than turkey on their minds. The 99th Annual Grey Cup Festival is in Vancouver Nov. 24-27, 2011.

Hosted by the BC Lions Football Club, highlights of the four-day festival include the Telus Street Fest, Friday-Sunday; Vanier Cup Championship at BC Place on Friday; Safeway Grey Cup Festival Parade on Saturday; and the 99th Grey Cup Championship at BC Place on Sunday. Plus all the other activities that make for a pre-winter celebration in Vancouver.

Friday's Vanier Cup (Coupe Vanier) pits the McMaster Marauders of Hamilton, Ontario against Quebec's Laval Rouge et Or. I'd never heard of the cup, and discovered it's the championship game of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football, played between the winners of the Uteck Bowl and the Mitchell Bowl.

The Safeway Grey Cup Festival Parade, which features Glee star (and BC boy!) Cory Monteith as the Grand Marshal, is on Saturday at 10 AM. It begins at Smithe and Hornby, turning onto Burrard toward the water. While part of the procession travels west on West Cordova, the other will travel down Canada Place Way. It will end at the Nissan Family Zone in Jack Poole Plaza around 12 noon. Organizers are expecting about 125,000 people for the family event.

The 99th Grey Cup on Sunday decides the champion for the 2011 CFL Season. This year's contest is between Eastern Division champions Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the hometown Western Division champions BC Lions. It's only the second time the two teams have faced off for the Grey Cup -- the other was in 1988 during the 76th Grey Cup. It will be played at the recently refurbished BC Place Stadium, which now has a new retractable roof as part of its $458 million renovation.

Entertainment for the Grey Cup's Pepsi MAX Half-Time Show will be provided by multi-platinum selling rock band Nickelback. The Canadian band members (Chad and Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peak, Daniel Adair) are originally from Hanna, Alberta. They're now based in Vancouver.

Elsewhere, Colin James will be taking his full band to the Molson Canadian House, which features entertainment throughout the weekend. As part of the Vancouver Convention Centre West, it's open to ages 19 and over who want to enjoy a cold beer and cool music. Colin peforms Friday from 9:30-11 PM. Click on for the complete schedule.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Finnish-invented TipCup co-designed by owner of Victoria's Silk Road

What's being described as a "revolutionary teacup" was co-designed by Daniela Cubelic, a Victoria, BC tea master and owner of Silk Road. The Finnish invented tea cup, called the TipCup, is 11 cm in diameter (4.5"), making it ideal for two-hand holding. It features an inbuilt removal strainer for in-cup tea brewing and easy cleaning, along with a dual-angled, triangle shaped bottom. You simply tip one side to brew and the other side to drink.

Cubelic, a highly acclaimed tea master with more than 20 years in the industry, calls the tea cup's design extraordinary and innovative. With more than 4,000 years of recorded history, she says it's the first tea cup with the dual tipping feature -- comparable to when teapots or teaballs were first invented. Silk Road has the sole Canadian distribution rights of the Magisso TipCup, which is now available at Silk Road's storefront on Government Street in Victoria ($29.90 CAD), in either black or white. 

Cubelic compares the tea cup to wine glasses. "It's well known that temperature and the vessel’s lip thickness and shape affects the taste of wine – the same is true for tea,” said Cubelic. The tea master collaborated with inventor Laura Bougdanos and head designer Vesa Jaasko on the cup's design. Although a newcomer on the tea-culture block, the Magisso TipCup  has already won an honourable mention at the reddot design awards for 2011.

Silk Road has been a fixture in Victoria’s historic Chinatown for nearly two decades. The store features a large selection of premium, organic loose-leaf teas; a host of brewing essentials, from teapots to kettles and specialty cups; a tea-tasting bar; and a tea-inspired natural spa. All the store’s organic teas are blended locally in Victoria, with its products available at a number of Canadian spas, retailers and hotels. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Whale, narrated by Ryan Reynolds, opens across Canada

THE WHALE, a Canadian documentary about Luna the orca, is opening on Nov. 18, 2011 at five movie theatres across Canada. The film was directed by producer Suzanne Chisholm and journalist Michael Parfit of Mountainside Films in Sidney, BC. The couple chronicled Luna the orca's adventures in both print and on film for several years. The G-rated film began its US run in September 2011 in the Seattle-Tacoma area and recently played at The Clyde Theatre in Langley on Whidbey Island, WA.

The film is narrated by actor Ryan Reynolds, who hails from Vancouver, BC. He's the film's executive producer, along with Scarlett Johansson and Eric Desatnik. Following the screenings in Canada on opening weekend, there will be Q&A sessions. Here's the first Canadian review of the film, which will be showing at these five theatres (click here for a chance to win free tickets):

Ottawa - The Mayfair Theatre: Post-screening Q&A at Friday evening show (7:30) with Canadian Federation of Human Societys Chief Executive Officer Barbara Cartwright. Intro to film by WWF-Canada oceans expert Andrew Dumbrille. Click here for show times and tickets.

Toronto - AMC Yonge & Dundas: Post-screening Q&Q at Friday evening show (7:30) with WWF-Canada Endangered Species officer Jarmila Becka Lee. For show times and tickets, click here.

Vancouver - Empire Granville 7: Post screening Q&A at Friday evening show (6:55) with co-director Michael Parfit; WWF-Canada VP of Pacific Conservation Darcy Dobell; and WWF-Canada Marine Science Planning Officer Hussein Alidina. For show times and tickets, click here.

Sidney, BC - Star Cinema: Post-screening Q&A with co-director Suzanne Chisholm at Friday evening show (7:15), and post-screening Q&A with co-director michael Parfit at all shows on Saturday. For more info, click here.

Victoria - The Caprice Theatre, Langford: Post-screening Q&A with co-director Suzanne Chisholm at Saturday, Nov. 19 matinee (2:00) and evening show (7:00). For more details, click here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Polar bear expert Dr. Ian Stirling to appear at The Fairmont Winnipeg

Eminent polar bear scientist and author Dr. Ian Stirling is appearing at The Fairmont Winnipeg on Nov. 16, 2011 at 6:30 PM for a presentation and book signing. Sponsored by Polar Bears International, the world's leading polar bear conservation group, the event in the East Ballroom includes a book signing, hors d'oeuvres and wine. Stirling will autograph copies of his new book, Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species. Tickets are $40, and reservations may be made online.

On a lighter note, The Lounge at The Fairmont Winnipeg is serving a special polar bear drink from Nov. 12-19, 2011. The Canadian Polar Bear 'Teani ($11) is made with Ice Cold Polar Bear Vodka, Chilled Antioxidant Green Tea, Manitoba Honey and Fresh Lime. The Fairmont Winnipeg is donating $1 from each drink to Polar Bears International.

Polar bear in Churchill, Manitoba - November 2011 - Photo by Sue Frause

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gonzaga vs. Hawaii: Vancouver welcomes home Robert Sacre

The only two college basketball teams I follow are Boston College and Gonzaga University. That's because my son is a BC grad and my daughter-in-law is a Zag alum. So when I heard that Gonzaga was playing a non-conference game against the University of Hawaii in Vancouver, BC this weekend, I couldn't quite figure out the Canadian connection.

It turns out that not one, but three of the Gonzaga Bulldogs are Canadians: senior center Robert Sacre (North Vancouver, BC); junior forward Kelly Olynyk (Kamloops, BC); and freshman guard Kevin Pangos (Newmarket, Ontario). The game is a homecoming for North Van's Sacre, who attended Handsworth Secondary School, where he led his team to the 61st AAA Provincial Championship as a junior. Here's the 7-ft., 260-lb player's high school bio from the Gonzaga Men's Basketball website:
Attended Handsworth Secondary School in North Vancouver, British Columbia, where he played for coach Randy Storey. Junior season led Handsworth to the title of the 61st AAA Provincial Championships, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking 4 shots to earn MVP honors on way in 82-65 win over Kitsilano. Averaged 25 ppg, 12 rpg and 4 blocks/game. Team finished third in the 2005 Provincial Championships. Was member of Canadian Junior National Team at Global Games in Dallas and in the World Championship Qualifiers in San Antonio, Texas, in summer of 2006. Allso participated in Canada Basketball's 2005 Nike Centre for performance, competing in USA Basketball's International Sports Invitational/USA Youth Development Festival in San Diego, Calif., in 2006 as part of Canada's Cadet National Team. Averaged 10.8 ppg to finish fourth and 6.5 rpg to finish second in the festival .Also a member of British Columbia's U17 team.
All three of the Canadian Zags have played on one of Canada's national teams. Olynyk was a member of the Canadian Junior Men's National Team in 2008 and played in the FIBA Americas Championship U18 tournament in Formosa, Argentina. Pangos played for the 2009 Canadian Cadet Men's National Team that won bronze at the U-16 FIBA Americas Championship and the 2010 U-17 World Championships.

Gonzaga's Bulldogs haven't played in Vancouver since November 1966 during the Totem Tournament, when they beat St. Martin's 78-60 and UBC (University of British Columbia) 89-73. This weekend's game, billed as the BC Basketball Classic, is Saturday, Nov. 19 at 6 PM at Rogers Arena. Tickets are $14, with details available via Idol Sports. The last contest between Gonzaga and Hawaii was in the second round of the 1998 NIT, when Hawaii beat the Zags 78-70. Gonzaga leads the all-time series 2-1. And with the difficulty of obtaining tickets for the Zags' home games in Spokane, this will be a chance for the Canadian players family, friends and fans to see the trio in action.

Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place) is home to the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League, and hosted events during the XXI Winter Olympic Games. I attended a NBA game there more than a dozen years ago when the Vancouver Grizzlies were still in town. The last basketball game held at the arena was on Oct. 6, 2010 when the Toronto Raptors defeated the Phoenix Suns in a NBA preseason game. Go Zags!

Rogers Arena undergoing major rehab in January 2011. Photo by Sue Frause. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Canada's newest (and greenest) airport makes its debut in Winnipeg, Manitoba

I flew to Winnipeg on Oct. 30, 2011 en route to Churchill, Manitoba. It just happened to be the day the new terminal at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport officially opened. It was a total airport day for me, as earlier I'd spend part of my layover in Vancouver chatting with Jaeger Mah, the storyteller at YVR who was wrapping up his 80 days living at Vancouver International Airport.

I was at the airport in the central Canada capital of Winnipeg about eight years ago during a trip to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The 1964-built terminal wasn't memorable, so I can't compare old and new. But the big, bright new terminal in Winnipeg is right up there with airports I've been to in Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. Beautiful!

The $585 redevelopment started nearly a decade ago. It's the largest construction project in Winnipeg's history, and includes a new parkade that was completed in 2005, and now the 51,000 square meter terminal building. LEED Certified, its 10,000 square meters of glass brings in natural light, reducing electrical consumption and greenhouse gases by 52% over comparable buildings. The curtain wall ventilation system distributes air with maximum efficiency, and the space is Manitoban in feel, with locally sourced granite and native prairie grass landscaping.

The second-story departure level has wrap-around views of Winnipeg's skyline and Manitoba's big sky. The most distinct feature, seen in the top photo, is a constellation of 55 skylights in the arrival area. Master architect was Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects of New Haven, CT -- which also designed the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong and Haneda Airport in Tokyo. It does have an Asian air about it. Well, except for the restaurant offerings! There are local outlets: Stella's Cafe & Bakery (fifth location in Winnipeg) and a diner called Salisbury House (famous for its Nip burgers and the Winni hot dog). There's also T.G.I.Fridays, Starbucks, and of course, Tim Hortons for your Timbits fix.

I didn't have time to check out all the art, but did see the four-meter tall bronze statue of James Armstrong Richardson, a gift from Winnipeg's prominent Richardson family. Richardson is considered Canada's commercial aviation pioneer -- he was a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force and founder of Canada's first national carrier, Western Carrier Airways Ltd. Elsewhere in the terminal is glass artist Warren Carther's Aperture, a pair of glowing green mini icebergs in the Queens Court area of the departure level.  On the arrival level is Winnipeg artist Joel Berman's Inside Ice, which looks like an iceberg cascading down the ceiling.

As far as passenger amenities, there are now 32 common-use kiosks for check-in that can be used for all carriers -- bags are dropped off at a common area. James Armstrong Richardson International Airport currently handles 3.4 million passengers a year, with the volume expected to reach 4.6+ million by 2020. And that number was forecast before the return of the Winnipeg Jets and the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Photos by Sue Frause

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Victoria, BC author Esi Edugyan awarded 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize

I tried to stay awake to watch the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize that was broadcast on CBC Nov. 8, but jet lag from my recent trip to Manitoba caught up with me.

The 2011 winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize was announced at a black-tie dinner and award ceremony in Toronto hosted by Jian Ghomeshi: Esi Edugyan of Victoria, BC was awarded the top prize for her novel Half-Blood Blues, published by Thomas Allen Publishers. More than 500 members of the publishing, media and arts communities were in attendance at The Four Seasons in Yorkville.

Edugyan will receive $50,000 from the largest literary prize in Canada. The other five finalists will each receive $5,000:
  • David Bezmogis for his novel The Free World, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • Lynn Coady for her novel The Antagonist, published by House of Anansi Press
  • Patrick deWitt for his novel The Sisters Brothers, published by House of Anansi Press
  • Zsuzsi Gartner for her short story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada
  • Michael Ondaatje for his novel The Cat's Table, published by McClelland & Stewart 

The winners and five finalists on the shortlist for best novel or collection of short stories were selected by a jury panel made up of award-winning Canadian writer and 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Annabel Lyon; American author, memoirist and Guggenheim fellow Howard Norman; and acclaimed UK playwright and prize-winning novelist Andrew O’Hagan. A record total of 143 books was submitted by 55 publishing houses from all regions of Canada. Here's what the jury had to say about Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues:
"Imagine Mozart were a black German trumpet player and Salieri a bassist, and 18th century Vienna were WWII Paris; that's Esi Edugyan's joyful lament, Half-Blood Blues.  It's conventional to liken the prose in novels about jazz to the music itself, as though there could be no higher praise. In this case, say rather that any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes.  Her style is deceptively conversational and easy, but with the simultaneous exuberance and discipline of a true prodigy.  Put this  book next to Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" – these two works of art belong together." 
The 33-year-old Esi Edugyan, born in Calgary, received degrees from the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003. Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally to critical acclaim. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her husband Steven Price, a poet and writing instructor at the University of Victoria.
The awards ceremony included celebrity presenters Lisa Ray, Zaib Shaikh, Robbie Robertson, Nelly Furtado, Ron Maclean and Jacob Hoggard. Read more about the evening's ceremony in the Toronto Star.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Jaeger Mah wraps up his 80 days at Vancouver International Airport

Photo by Sue Frause
I was able to meet up with Jaeger Mah, the 29-year-old Vancouver resident who lived at Vancouver International Airport for 80 days. It was Jaeger's final week as an airport dweller, and The Port Alberni native invited me for a coffee last Sunday during my three-hour layover from Seattle to Winnipeg. Jaeger was selected from a field of 96 competitors to be a special correspondent at YVR for 80 days and 80 nights. It was all to celebrate the 80th anniversary of YVR, Canada's second largest airport, located on Sea Island in Richmond. In addition to being the airport's storyteller through his videos and blogs posted at, he received $15,000 for his unique airport gig.

When I arrived at YVR from Seattle on the morning of Oct. 30, I tweeted Jaeger, who tweeted me back that he was editing videos in his suite at The Fairmont Vancouver Airport (not a bad place to hang your hat for 80 days). He suggested we meet at Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge, close to my gate in YVR's Domestic Terminal. What a fun and friendly guy! Dressed casually, including flip-flops but minus his trademark Hawaiian shirt, he offered to make me a Mochachino -- a special coffee with Baileys Irish Cream.

Jaeger (which is German, Mah is Chinese) said he's long had a craving for adventure. The nine-year Vancouver resident, who runs a video production company out of his home, said the biggest surprise about his time at YVR was the love from his fans. Oh sure, he missed home cooking and having friends over, but how can you complain about arriving at a new job in a London Air Lear jet?

Plus, he made all those new friends (YVR has 23,600 employees) while sharing his stories with the world. Jaeger got caught up in the energy of the airport ("it consumes you") and is impressed with YVR's commitment to technology and the environment. Some of his highlights included meeting with pilots, assisting in a runway safety check, finding Sea Island's Queen Bee and conquering the control tower.

On Nov. 4, YVR held a farewell ceremony for Jaeger prior to his departure from the airport at 11 AM. He was made an honorary Green Coat, plus YVR produced a  special farewell video for Jaeger. Bon Voyage, Airport Man!