Read about:

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Gaelic in the Maritimes

For those who don't know, today is La na #Gàidhlig (Gaelic Day) on Twitter, as well as #TIML2016, or International Twitterday in Lesser-Used Languages. In honours of these, as well as of my love for languages (and Gaelic in particular), I've decided the write the first in what will hopefully be a series of blogposts about language here in the Maritimes. My hope is that these posts will give visitors (and even locals) an insight into some of the complexities of culture in the Maritimes, both historically and presently.

    Talking about Gaelic in the Maritimes always elicits a bizarre range of responses. From non-Maritimers, I've heard everything from people who think that Gaelic is used daily in the streets of Halifax (it's not) to people who had no idea that there was a European language other than English or French that had, at one time, been the main language in parts of this region (more on that later). From Maritimers, there's whole other range, depending partly on where you are and whether Gaelic is part of someone's heritage. On the one end of the spectrum, there are those of us (yes, I'm including myself here) who are Gaelic revivalists in one form or another- we see the language as having an intrinsic value in the cultural history of our region, and are interested in supporting it in various ways. On the complete other end of the spectrum are those who feel that Gaelic, and any efforts to revive or support it, are a waste of time. Most people sit somewhere in the middle-they're interested, and vaguely aware of the role it plays in their personal and regional heritage, but don't know too much about it.

   Now, before I get any further, I need to define what I'm talking about. "Gaelic" is a term that is commonly used to refer to a variety of different Celtic languages, all spoken to varying degrees. Although Irish Gaelic was spoken in Newfoundland, here I'm specifically talking about Scottish Gaelic, which was much more prevalent in the Maritimes than any of the other varieties. Most of the time, when people in the Maritimes talk about Gaelic, this is the variety they mean. Scottish Gaelic has a long history in Canada (a story for another time); by Confederation, it was the third-most spoken European language in the country. In Cape Breton (which I'll mostly be talking about, since I'm more familiar with the history there), it may well have been the majority language for the entire island (certainly it was in many communities).

So what happened?

Well, a few things. Unfortunately, Gaelic was already on the decline by the time it made it to Canada (yet another story for another time), which certainly didn't help the cause. The way the language was used, and, more importantly, how it was viewed, also had a major role. Gaelic was certainly the language of social life for many-of songs, of gatherings, heck there was even a newspaper published in the language in Cape Breton until the early 1900s. It wasn't, however, a language with much institutional backing-English was the language of education and government (though not for lack of trying, as some evidence suggests that an attempt was made to have Gaelic added as an official language of Canada, though this was rejected). Perhaps more importantly, however, many held negative attitudes towards the language,  viewing it as association with poverty and a lack of education. There is, for example, a great song from the late 1800s about a woman who pretends not to speak Gaelic, an example of the way people viewed the language at the time: many felt downright ashamed to speak the language in public, which is a quick path to language death. There is even some suggestion that the government played an active role in discouraging the use of the language, though I don't know enough about that side of things to get into it here.

Most of today's Maritimers, myself included, are only a few generations away from those native speakers. Gaelic was spoken natively by at least some of my great-grandparents, and although some of their children may have had some knowledge of the language at one time, by the time I was born only a phrase or two was handed down. However, Gaelic is certainly not dead-it lives on in many ways. "Cead Mile Failte" (One Hundred Thousand Welcomes), has persisted in written form in many communities (interestingly, most people know what it means in writing, but before learning Gaelic formally I'd never heard anyone speak it aloud), and "Failte" (Welcome) is becoming common on many communities' welcome signs. The word "Ceilidh" (pronounced Kay-lee) also stood the test of time: referring today to one of our famous "Kitchen Parties," ceilidh actually comes from the Gaelic for "a visit." Gaelic has also had many impacts on the dialects of English spoken in certain areas, although that, yet again, is a story for another day.

In recent decades, there's also been a very active movement to support and revive the language. People in my generation and that of my parents are realizing what we have lost, and attempting to reverse that process. In fact, there even exist official offices supporting this work in Nova Scotia (pictured left). Much of the work is in the form of education- the Gaelic College, for instance, offers Gaelic immersion programs, and many schools in Nova Scotia now offer the language as a subject. Increasing the language's visibility has also been another huge element:  bilingual signs now announce the names of many places, and an official Gaelic-Nova Scotian flag has even been developed.

So, what does this mean for visitors to our area? Is there a sort of tangible cultural heritage that the traveller (and, dare I say, tourist) can access? Well, yes and no. You are highly unlikely to hear Gaelic casually being spoken in the streets (I certainly never have), although you will see it on the signs announcing some communities. If you go to Cape Breton, you may well also see the Gaelic flag flying, or as a vanity license plate. Gaelic also marks some of the place names dotting our landscape-most notably places like Ben Eoin. There are also places that a traveller can visit to learn more: the Highland Village Museum, in Iona, Cape Breton, is a fantastic living history museum where you can learn not only about the language, but also about the customs and ways of life of Gaelic settlers. The bookshop also sells a variety of materials relating to Gaelic. If you have a little more time to spare, you can also take a Gaelic immersion class as the Gaelic College (or Colaiste na Gàidhlig), which also happens to have some stunning grounds, an a small museum as well. I would also encourage you, if you are truly interested in the Gaelic heritage here, to take that as an opportunity to dig below the surface by talking to people you meet about it. Older generations, especially, will remember Gaelic-speaking parents and friends. The only caveat here, of course, is to do so in a respectful and informed way, remembering that not everyone has an interest in (or even heritage of) Gaelic, and that for some this may be a sore subject.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Up Up and Away: Tips and Reviews from Edmundston

      Last week I had the opportunity to spend a few days up in Edmundston. Having recently returned to NB after being away studying, I'm pretty excited to get this blog going again and so, naturally, when I knew I was going to be in a whole new part of the province for a few days, I made sure to make a list of places to check out and review. As I continue working on this blog, I've decided that it's time to make the format less review-centric, and more a true blog. Therefore, this post is going to contain sort of all of the details, from getting around to food etc., rather than breaking them up into separate posts.
    For those who don't know (and that's precisely who I write for after all!), Edmundston is located in the very tip-top of New Brunswick, on the Northwest corner. It's not inaccurate to describe this place as the end of the province-Québec is less than twenty KM away, and MCafaine is literally right across the river. Around 16 000 people call Edmundston home, and they're primarily French-speaking. On a small cultural note, Edmundston is not, strictly speaking, an Acadian community; rather, most people from Edmundston are actually Brayons, a separate francophone group. On that note, Edmundston is also considered the capital of the "Republic of Madawaska," which is a sort of historical reference to the fact that, early after the US became independent, this region was disputed between the US and Great Britain, leaving locals to declare themselves independent (though that never was recognized by either power, and, with the border now firmly settled since a while, "La république" is a symbolic term rather than a boat fide separatist movement).

So, with the introductions over, let's get straight down to a few of the places that I can recommend.

Le pirate-This restaurant came highly recommended on Trip Advisor and other similar websites, and so it was my first stop for dinner while in the city. I'm glad that I had read the reviews in advance-I probably wouldn't have stopped and eaten a lobster roll there once I realized it was a truckstop but, reassured by numerous claims that they have the best lobster rolls in the Maritimes, I headed in. The menu carries a fairly extensive list of standard small take-out food (sandwiches, burgers, etc.), while also offering some great variations (lobster poutine, for example). The real star of the show are the lobster rolls, which are fairly reasonably priced at around $7 for one, $14 for two, or $10 for a lobster roll and a crab roll, which was the option I went for. I have to say, I definitely think this place is worth the hype-this was the most generous lobster roll I've ever been served at a restaurant, with entire chunks of meat and minimal fillers. Something that flew under the radar on the online reviews but which I think also deserves a shout out here are the onion rings-things, crispy, and greasy (which, here, is very much a good thing). Le Pirate is located in the Edmundston Truck Stop, just off exit 19 off the Trans Canada (Highway 2). Very clean establishment as well.

Café Lous Bleu-This spot was the one that caused me to reconsider whether I really want to put all of Edmundston in one post. Café Lotus Bleu is precisely the kind of little gem that inspired me to write this blog. Right downtown Edmundston (it can be a tad hard to spot), Lotus Bleu is an organic, vegetarian café with the decor and vibe that go with that. The staff are incredibly friendly, and the menu offers many options. The soup "velouté aux legumes" (more or less a veggie bisque) was the perfect thing for an icy winter's day, but it was the combination of the delicious coffee (a latté served in a big ol' bowl) and great ambiance that brought me back the next day to just sit there, sipping coffee and watching the world go by outside the window. Prices are a little on the steep side, but they reflect the quality. Also a good availability of products like veggie pâté from the fridge. Highly recommended.

Brasserie Petit Sault- One of the suggestions that I kept getting was to check out the local brewery, Brasserie Petit Sault. Their "Boutique" is located right downtown, and allows you to sample an array of locally-themed beers. The prices were fairly reasonable for a tasting, and it offers a fun attraction to go spend some time at. Also, if you find the cases in stores, they tend to be quite comical.Pictured to the left is a glass of their pilsner, La Kedgwick.

Sucré Salé NB-I was specifically directed to Sucré Salé to enjoy their Ployes, a type of crêpe local to the region. For around $5 one can enjoy a rather large ploye accompanied by creton (a sort of meat spread not unlike the filling of a meat pie) (pictured left). They also sell numerous sweets, and the attached store boasts a variety of kitchen-related items.

So, that's my shortlist for Edmundston. Being in the Winter, I wasn't able to check out the outdoor-oriented attractions like the Botanical Gardens. Overall, I was very impressed with how friendly the community is (in fact, when I tweeted to ask for suggestions of places to check out, I had several responses from the mayor!), and I would definitely like to return in a warmer season.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

M&T Deli

Well, it seems like time to get back to the old bread and butter of this blog-restaurant reviews. I originally thought that not travelling as much this year meant that I wouldn't really have the chance to do these-and to some extent, it is true that I've seen a lot less new restaurants this year than years previous. What I didn't realize was that staying mostly in Fredericton does give me the opportunity to get to know places better before I review them. Such is the case with M&T Deli.

I actually first went to M&T (and first meant to review it) over a year ago, while out for a walk downtown and in search of lunch. We really enjoyed the food and the vibe of the restaurant, and I've been meaning to go back for a while. Fast forward to this summer, when I've had the chance to enjoy lunch and many, many snacks in this cool little downtown spot. M&T has the kind of vibe that you want from a little café-local art plasters the walls, and the building still retains some of its architectural charm. The Queen street location also means that, if you don't want to eat in, you can take your sandwich to any of number of lovely nearby spots for a picnic-I suggest Officer's Square or the river bank.

The food consists of several variations on a similar theme, with your choice of sandwich, panini, wrap, or salad. The flavour combinations are what you would expect from a hip downtown café-think various combinations of ingredients like chicken, avocados, cranberries, and the like. Lighter, summer-y sort of flavours. A meal will run you around ten dollars, and that includes Covered Bridge Potato Chips (made in nearby Heartland), and a pickle.

As I mentioned, M&T also offers lots of great bakery-style snacks. What originally kept me coming back was actually the highly reasonable prices-you can pick up a cinnamon bun (my personal favourite) for under two dollars after taxes, and treats like giant cookies or muffins run at similar prices. I've spent many a coffee break running down here hoping that there were still some cinnamon buns left (they can sell out quickly some days). Though I've never tried it, they also offer breakfast and have daily specials on a chalkboard out front.

Click to add a blog post for M&T Deli on Zomato

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Book Review: Irving vs. Irving

Being a student, one of the best parts of summer is the chance to trade my school readings for a good book. With exams over, I took the opportunity to finally get down to reading Jacques Poitras' Irving vs. Irving, which came out in September of 2014. Anyone who knows even a little about New Brunswick knows that the Irving family plays an immense role in the province's economy. In many ways, this role-if not dominance-is visible to anyone who so much as passes through the province: you'll likely fill-up with Irving gasoline, be passed by Irving trucks on the highway, and see signs for numerous attractions named after or featuring the Irving family and its companies. There is, however, a lot more below the visible surface, from the companies owned by family members (including trucking, rail, and food companies) to the Irving's role in provincial politics. Irving vs. Irving focuses, primarily, on one of those Irving-dominated industries in particular: print media.

   Himself a former employee of both the Telegraph-Journal and the Times-Transcript, Poitras uses Irving ownership of virtually all English-language print media in the province (and some French-language print media) as a vehicle for exploring the dynamics of New Brunswick's wealthiest family. In particular, Poitras often zeroes in on the apparent, if not inherent, conflicts of interest involved in coverage of Irving-centric stories. Through this lense, Poitras takes us through a chunk of New Brunswick history, Irving history, and the history of the newspapers themselves.

   Irving vs. Irving is a well-written, and extremely well-researched book that offers a look into an important NB topic. Poitras has an approachable and thorough writing style. The story of the Irvings can at times be hard to follow- Poitras provides charts, such as family trees, to help clarify, and gives the occasional reminder of just who he is talking about, making it a little easier to grasp exactly what is going on.

For those not from the region, Irving vs. Irving provides an excellent backgrounder on the Irving family, with an in-depth look at the family's role in NB media. In doing so, Poitras also gives helpful nods to other topics- events in NB politics, provincial dynamics and, perhaps most interestingly, the limitations of small news markets. Anyone who would like to get a closer grasp on these elements of New Brunswick would be well advised to read this book.

For those from the Maritimes, Poitras provides an important investigative-style account of aspects that play a major role in NB (and, at times, regional) politics. The background and insights provided by Irving vs. Irving are, in my opinion, important for anyone interested in the issue of media in the Maritimes.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Fredericton's Lovely, Lovely Trails

One of the best things about Fredericton in the summer, hands down no doubt, is being outdoors. I've always been a fan of a run jaunt leisurely stroll through Odell Park, or a walk along the river. But what I've discovered this year is just how great Fredericton's network of trails is. This Handy Dandy Trails Map shows 17 different official trails. There's quite a variation in them- a few aren't actually connected to the network, but take you around parks or tracks. The rest generally link up, meaning that not only are they great for exercising on a beautiful day, but they make a great way to get around town too-the fact that many are on old rail beds means that they generally take you everywhere you need to go, including straight through the middle of downtown. This summer, I've actually made a point of commuting on my bike as much as possible-and hope to write a post about utilitarian cycling in the near future.
Seriously though, this could be your commute.

Commuting aside, Fredericton's trails have become my new weekend pastime, especially on nice days, and so today's focus is more on recreation and making the trails network a part of your visit or day out.

The Trails
  South Riverfront Trail Number 3 on the trails map (link above), this path follows the South bank of the Saint John River between Waterloo Row and the Delta Hotel. Most of the path is paved, with the exception of the short portion between the walking bridge (more on that great spot below) and the park fronting Waterloo Row. This trail passes a number of the City's main attractions, and offers spectacular views of the river.

Lincoln Trail Number 6 on your handy-dandy map ,the Lincoln trail starts at the South end of the pedestrian bridge, following a tree-lined path between the houses of Town Plat to the University, and then veering East, following a gentle slope up a cliff overlooking the Princess Margaret Bridge and the Saint John River before sloping back down towards the river near the Potato Farm. This path is paved from the bridge through to near the potato farm, and is a good way to get to the market and the universities, takes you through some older neighbourhoods (with some earlier houses still visible), and connects conveniently to most of the other paths. Connects to the Trans Canada Trail

  Crosstown Trail Number 8 on the map, this one is more utilitarian than anything else, bridging the distance between the Lincoln Trail near UNB, and the Valley Trail near the Exhibition grounds. It's not paved the whole way, and parts of it follow along the streets. This is one of the more confusing paths.
  Valley Trail Number four on the map, picks up where the Crosstown leaves off and follow the south bank of the river west of Fredericton. I can't write as much about this one since I've yet to have the pleasure, but based off where it goes, I expect fantastic river views.
  North Riverfront Trail Number 11. This trail runs between the walking bridge and the Nashwaak Commons on the North Side of the river. This path offers some really great views of the river and takes you through some nice parks (and past an assortment of businesses). There is a big caveat though: the condition of the trail between the Westmoreland Street Bridge and Carleton Park (near the walking bridge) varies from small path perched near the river, to steep tiny path. Heed the signs that warn of rough trails ahead!
  Northside Trail Number 12 on the good ol' map,this trail heads west from the Trail Visitor Centre, starting through the backs of neighbourhoods heading behind houses, and eventually veering closer to the river. This one provides a useful connection between the different trails on the North Side, and would probably be useful for commuting. Paved.

  Nashwaak Trail 14 Follows from the walking bridge on the west side of the Nashwaak River. Much of this path feels isolated, though it actually heads behind neighbourhoods and houses. The trail pops out near Marysville providing access to services, then heads back into the woods and over a great walking bridge with lovely views. Connects to the NB trail.
  Gibson Trail Number 15, connects the Trail Visitor Centre and Marysville, on the East bank of the Nashwaak River, although it goes further away from the river than the Nashwaak Trail tends to. Along this trail is Hyla Park, an amphibian preserve.
Pedestrian Bridge (Left) Number 1 on your map, this former rail bridge provides fantastic views of the river and both sides of the city, while connecting the North and South sides.

  Suggested Routes If you've been following my blog (or you've read back), you'll know that I previously did a post with a suggested walking tour downtown. The nice thing about the bike trails is that they actually reach most of the attractions you'll want to see downtown, connect to several hotels, and provide an alternative, tree-lined, and more leisurely route. I've also added a route that takes you a bit further out of town into Marysville.

Take a lunch! Eat in a park! 

  Touristy Downtown Fredericton The South Riverfront Trail and the Lincoln Trail (up to UNB) provide a good combined route that actually takes in most of Fredericton's main sites. The Legislature, the Garrison District, the Playhouse, the Former Governor's Residence and the Beaverbrook Gallery are all on Queen Street, just off this path (the Gallery actually sits on the path itself).

Things will be great!

From the trail, follow the overpass (sign pictured left) for easy access to City Hall and the arts and crafts shops of the Garrison District. This route also offers signs for attractions (pictured right), easy bike parking, washrooms, and the tourist information centre.

Beaverbrook, the Legislature and the Playhouse are actually more easily reached by turning off the path where it reaches the statue picture left-this offers the advantage of following the direction of traffic on Queen, which is one way, though bike parking is harder to come by, and signage is lacking.

From the Walking Bridge, follow the lovely tree-lined Lincoln Trail south, passing many older homes. The Fredericton Farmers' Market can be reached by turning off the path at George Street (pictured left when travelling north. Travelling south from the bridge, turn off at the first street the trail crosses).

The Crown Plaza Hotel's parking lot, (sign pictured left) and the Delta Hotel are both located right on the pathway. Bike rentals are available near the Lighthouse on the Green, and bike parking is available at the Library and the Lighthouse, amongst other locations.

  Loop Through Marysville The architecture of the former mill town of Marysville has always been some of my favourite in the city. The Nashwaak Trail and the Gibson Trail make a near-perfect loop through this area: from the TVC, pick one and head north until you reach the aptly-named Bridge street, cross over the bridge, and then head back down the other side. If you want to see more of the architecture, head east up the hill on Bridge St. for a few blocks. While heading along the Gibson trail, the Hyla Nature Park makes for a worth while stop.

  A few tips

Guidance Signs Notice that the name of the trail appears in the blue box, attractions (and their distance) in the green section, and little markers for washrooms and food in smaller blue boxes at the bottom. If you're coming from the US, remember that a Km is 1000 metres, and that a mile is about 1.6 Km or 1600m. See the picture on the left for an example.

Trail Maps are located at strategic locations along the trails, on big signs (left).

Parking is not always the easiest thing to come by, but can be found in many parks, as well as at the Lighthouse on the Green and the Fredericton Public Library

Shared Use Fredericton's trails are mixed-use. This means that, no matter whether you're biking, running with a friend, or walking with a stroller, all these other uses are also going on at the same time on the same paths. Bikes are supposed to be limited to 15 Km/h, yield to pedestrians, and ring their bells when they pass-if you're biking, keep these rules in mind. If you're not on a bike, remember that not everyone follows these to a T. Paths are much busier weekends and, of course, nice days.

Kids I wanted to make this a separate note. Pathways are great for families, especially on weekends and sunny days. Both people with kids and all other trail users need to keep in mind that sometimes kids are a bit unpredictable-I've seen way too many situations where parents aren't watching kids, or are watching them but let them run into the path of oncoming bikes. Similarly, bikes need to make sure to yield to kids (who, as pedestrians, have right of way), exercise extra caution around them.

Trail Visitor Information Centre (TVC) is located just past the pedestrian bridge on the North Side, and has bathrooms, water for dogs, and information.

As a final note, especially for people from out of town, it's important to be aware that while Fredericton's trails are excellent, they're not 100% perfect. Sometimes you'll see curb cuts that are missing, trails that unexpectedly become dirt paths or sidewalks, or cross the street without warning, and signs may be missing. Signage is better on some paths than others, but still often lacks indications for tourist attractions.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Back into the swing of things

Well folks, I've decided that it's time to get down to blogging once again. Yes yes, I know that the summer is already well in full swing, but better late than never, right? Over the course of the next few weeks, you can also, hopefully, expect to see some changes to the way this blog works. I'll be updating some of the info sections, fixing the tags that somehow went a bit askew, etc. I do, however, hope to get into some more in-depth content and return to the more narrative style I'd always intended this blog to have (hence this chatty little post. You'll also notice a change in what I'm writing about-I'm travelling less than in previous years, which will mean more articles focusing on familiar places, more posts about books/culture/news/events, etc. And now, without further ado, onto that post I was promising....

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Napoli Pizza

This is the beginning of a series of posts on that perennial favourite: pizza! In Sydney, Cape Breton, people take their pizza loyalty seriously. Very seriously. In most cases, you're either a Napoli family or a Kenny's family. You'll find few other pizza places in the city. Napoli pizza is located on Charlotte Street in Downtown Sydney (although they've a new location opening up soon as well). It's a small little pizzeria with, as I said, a very loyal clientèle, and it can be quite busy at times. Two things distinguish Napoli from other pizza places: 1) The crust: Nova Scotians, and especially Cape Bretoners, like their pizza with a thin, floppy crust. Napoli delivers on this wish- a piece of pizza comes nowhere nearing supporting itself if you hold it by the crust, and the crust itself is flavourful and soft. 2) The cheese: Napoli uses Saputo mozzarella, and is not skimpy on the cheese; this is exactly how pizza is on TV, with cheese that slides off if you hold it, and stretches when you bite it. I once even had a friend who had lived in Italy tell me, while visiting Sydney, that Napoli's cheese (and the pizza overall, really), was the closest she'd ever had to real Italian pizza here in Canada. Aside from these two star features, the toppings are delicious and plentiful, and prices are quite reasonable. Without a doubt, Napoli is the best pizza in Sydney, if not Nova Scotia.