Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I finally made it to the "Rock" as Newfoundland is often called.  Irene, the boys and myself spent 8 days there,  starting and ending at St. John's.  Like most people who visit the island, we rented a car.     St. John's is a small city, perfect for walking. It's a historical city as well  and the row houses have a lot of character in their brightly painted colours.  We walked up to the famous Signal Hill, a high mount at the narrow entrance of the harbour overlooking the sea. Later, we drove to the most eastern  point of North America to Cape Spear, another rugged coastline of grass, cliffs and rock with a lighthouse perched on a hill.

Cape Spear

Quidi Vidi

Our road trip brought us first to the southern coastline of the Avalon Peninsula, to the spectacular bird sanctuary of Cape St. Mary. It was a foggy ("faawggy" as Newfies say) day as we walked up to the cliff were thousands of gannets, murs and kittiwakes are perched on a massive rock that is overflowing with piercing, diving and scrambling birds from edge to edge.

We drove back north, through small  coastal towns with somewhat odd names like Argentia and Placentia before stopping at a campground for a night in the tent.  Being from the Prairies,  I love the wind.  The wind in Newfoundland however is legendary and for the next two sunny days, it was blowing hard, white caps on the water, trees and grass swaying rapidly.  

Next stop; Twillingate, a picturesque town surrounded by coves and islets and known as 'iceberg alley'.  Sure enough, we saw a few of them close to shore and some massive ones far off on the horizon.  It was a good thing we brought our camping gear as all the BnBs and guest houses were full (and expensive) in this, their three month tourist season. After setting up the tent, we explored the town and watched a spectacular sunset from another lighthouse high on a hill, cliffs dropping to the sea.  We saw the spray of a few whales below and the howling wind made amazing patterns on the surface of the water.  Of course we ate some local cod in the form of fish and chips and the seafood chowder was excellent. 

We then drove west across the island to Corner Brook,  where my cousin David and his wife Marlene live.  It was great to see them after many years and just in time as well since they are in the process of moving to Ontario, having both retired from teaching fine arts at the local university here.  Another day exploring some coves at the end of the road, on the western coast. Yet again, massive cliffs dropping to the sea below.

Our last two days we spent in Gros Morne National Park.  We did a short hike to the famous Tablelands rocks,  a barren series of mountains with plateaus that emerged from the Earth's mantle, below the crust, when the tectonic plates collided.  Apparently there is only one other place in the world, Australia,  that has this same collection of peridotite rock, where nothing can grow due to the high amount of magnesium and other heavy metals in the rock.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore the many other remarkable geographical sites Gros Morne has to offer, but we still got an idea of how impressive this coastline is just by driving through its fjords and stopping in some its small towns.  By looking at some of the tiny fishing villages, little shacks on side of the sea,  one can imagine how life would have been, on this rugged, often remote coast before there were roads that connected it all together.   As Marlene told us, the Newfoundlanders are a very resourceful people. If anything happened to the grid she said, this would probably be the place where people would get by the easiest.  

It was a sunny day for our long drive back to Saint John's.  One last night in a comfortable suburban home, thanks to AirBnB,  and one last amazing cinnamon bun at the best bakery in town, before catching our flight back westward, across the country to the other coast.   I will most likely come back to Newfoundland to spend more time hiking its spectacularly rugged and wild coastlines and mountains.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Vancouver's West End Apartments

I live in the West End of Vancouver, a mostly residential neighbourhood that is bordered by the central business district of downtown, Stanley Park and the Pacific Ocean.  It was considered one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in North America way back before the term 'density' became a buzz word for city planners today.  At the turn-of-the-century, it was all houses with large porches and back yards.  By the 1960s only a few remained, progressively replaced by apartment blocks. The older ones are quite similar to what you see in  cities back East;  three to four  stories,  brick, bay windows and high ceilings, some with art deco motifs.  

By the 1950s and 60s many of them became taller, the units smaller (though still larger than many of todays condo units) most with balconies.   The architectural style of these later apartment blocks is particular to Vancouver.  The only other place that reminds me of these buildings are those of the same age, located in Waikiki,  Honolulu.   It also helps that many have names like 'Laguna Beach',  'Ocean Towers',  'Sunset Place' and 'Pacific Palisades'. 

Slowly,  and amidst considerable opposition from residents of the West End, some of these buildings are now being replaced by taller glass towers and condos that have become synonymous with Vancouver's downtown.   From turn-of-the-century houses to modest apartment blocks to tall glass towers...  and despite the exploding cost of housing in this city,  people will always be attracted to live here.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Paul S. Guyot - Canadian Landscape Artist and Naturalist

My father, Paul Sébastien Guyot, was an artist.  For as long as I can remember,  he would spend hours in his downstairs studio of our suburban home painting oil on canvas.  He was an avid outdoorsman as well and taught us four kids how to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature. Our family would often go out on canoe trips and hikes in the 'Shield' country (the boreal forests,  granite rock  and thousands of lakes that occupy two thirds of Canada).  Or perhaps it was for a day of  snowshoeing on a frozen river, with the blueish shadows of snow banks and sculpted, wind blown dunes of sparkling white.  

I remember as a child, on hot summer afternoons, when the prairie skies of Manitoba turned dark and storms of booming thunder and lighting bolts would hit, my dad and I would stay outside on the porch,  excited and in awe at the power of nature.   All of this was reflected in his art. Nature was his passion and inspiration.  Along with photography, he loved capturing it in all its glory, from reflected sunsets on a lake, to colourful autumn trees, to moss covered rocks on a shoreline,  to those stormy skies over a prairie wheat field. 


He sometimes did sketches out in the field, with both crayons and acrylics.  However most of his work was done in his studio with oil paints. He usually used Kodachrome slides of photos he took for references and painted mostly with a palette knife.   He was very good at mixing colours.  When I started showing interest in art myself, I remember him showing me how he did it and being impressed at how quickly, with a few dabs of paint here and there, he got the exact colour he was looking for.  He also said that you should never be afraid of 'putting it on', something you  could easily see he did with the palette knife strokes in his paintings.

"The Ridge"

"Flaming dogwoods"

field sketch (acrylic)

"Heron at dawn"

"After the Storm"

Although most his paintings were of the lake country of eastern Manitoba and NW Ontario,  he also painted typical prairie scenes... an old grain elevator with hay stacks in a field,  rusting farm implements in overgrown tall grass or twisted barbed wire fence posts in a snow covered gully.  His work as a CBC cameraman brought him to many locations in Canada.  He was always very fond of the North.  One of my favourites is an earlier painting he did of the tundra, with it's stunted trees and colourful moss.  You can almost feel the cold wind.

"The Barren Lands"

"Wagon wheel"

"North-west Wind" (detail)

"the Seine River,  Saint Boniface "

The Lone Pine

Poplars on a ridge

My father must have painted an average of about ten paintings a year for over thirty years.  Although he did not earn a living with his art,  nor was he represented in a commercial gallery, he was well known in our community of Saint Boniface and Winnipeg and he had many exhibits over the years. He must have sold at least half of all the work he produced.  This painting of a great horned owl on the lid of a wooden barrel was a very popular one that he could have sold many times over but I had put my name on it. He had once told us that each one of us four kids could choose 3 - 4 paintings we like to keep for the future.  I was quite young at the time, so some of my choices changed over the years but I always kept this one.

"Great Horned Owl"