Wonder Winter Land

I know those words don’t seem to be in the right order but then this winter hasn’t been very orderly either!  Now despite the surprise that most Canadians express when it appears, the season of winter is a given here in the Greatish White North.  It has been since the ice bridge brought the first peoples over 6,000 years ago (I got this figure from a Bible-based website so live with it!)  Which is why it always surprises me when people complain about weather delays when travelling – but that is another story.

A typical Charlottetown Winter Scene
This beautiful photo was taken last winter by Jared Doyle, a very talented photographer.  I’m proud to say it hangs in our entrance way.

Back to my main theme – this has been one of the strangest winters I can recall in my seven decades.  It was abnormally warm most of October and November and there was no snow until just before Christmas.  We had a white Christmas but by Boxing Day warm weather made for a slushy grey Boxing Day.  Then the “weather bomb” brought truly Arctic temperatures to most of North America for Christmastide.  Here on the Island it was -35c (-31f) with winds up to 135 km/h (85 m/h). This was followed by heavy dumps of snow as the temperatures became a sub-sub-tropical -10c (14f).  In the past few days the temperature has risen to a sub-tropical 11c (52f) and great puddles of water and brown winter lawns are more common than piles of pristine snow.  However never fear winter is returning and in some places the temperatures are predicted to plummet more than 25º within a few hours.

However  there are still moments when that well-worn cliche “a winter wonderland” does apply.  As an example yesterday pilot Paul Tymstra was flying into Charlottetown; as he came over the Abegweit Passage, the narrowest part of the Northumberland Strait, he noticed the unusual ice patterns created by the movement of ice flows passing under the Confederation Bridge. (Left click for a closer look!)

Taken from 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) over the Northumberland Strait – the black arrow points to the span of the 12,900 metre (8 mile) long Confederation Bridge at the Abegweit Passage.
                                                                         Photo by Paul Tymstra

Aside from the beauty of this photo it also gives an indication of the engineering of the 12,900 metre span.  Apparently there are ice shields on the pylons that act as cutters or as one commentator suggests “a giant bread slicer”.  Tidal movement at that narrow point can be up to 7 km/h and more if there is a strong westerly wind blowing.

It’s only a coincidence but the pattern is almost like the patchwork of fields and roads you see as you come over the Island.  Unfortunately I was unable to come across a photo that would compare the two but I’ll continue searching.

On this day in 1554: Bayinnaung, who would go on to assemble the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia, is crowned King of Burma.

Come Ye To The Fairs

I’ve honestly lost count….

It seems there are Christmas Fairs going on at almost every corner in Charlottetown and in every town of any size here on the Island. Last weekend the Victorian Fair took up most of the weekend and a block of Queen Street, and just down the street the Murphy Centre was hosting another indoor fair.


Santa and Mrs Claus were at the street fair  and there were free horse drawn wagon rides through town.


Red Adirondack chairs were set up around braziers where fires gave comforting smells and warmth to a coldish day.  Many of the arts and crafts merchants from across the Island were there displaying their Christmas lines.  And a few of the food venues offering cookies, cakes, sweets, savouries, and mulled cider  for the holidays.

A left click on the Cabin Fever Carving logo will take you to their etsy page.

Amongst the jewellery, knitwear, handmade cards, woodwork, and stollen one tent in particular caught my  eye: Cabin Fever Carving.  Now as anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows over the past few years I have developed an amateur’s appreciation of work from the North in bone, antler and natural materials.  It was the use of those materials by carver Trudy Gilbertson that drew my attention to her stall.   She creates unique jewellery, ornaments, and sculptures using those materials as her medium.  Her time in Northern Canada, as best as I can figure from her Facebook profile as a warden with Parks Canada, shows in many of the pieces that she has created.  They are echos of the Inuit carvings where the natural form of the material dictates the finished shape and use.


And wouldn’t you know it she just happened to have a few little baubles for the Christmas tree.  Yes! Yes! YES!  I know I said no more Christmas ornaments after last year’s fox but …. but….  hey get off my back I’m old enough to make my own decisions okay?

The camera (time for an iPhone X?????) didn’t quite capture all the facets of this piece carved from a shed antler with it’s very unusual shape.  (A left click will enlarge the photos for a closer look.)

The ring effect is caused by the exterior hard bone and the interior porous bone – I’m not sure what created that small hole in the middle.

As I admired these newest additions to our never-decreasing collection I thought I’d do a bit of a search on antlers – what they are, how they grow, and why the heck they are there in the first place.

Antlers are true bone extensions of an animal’s skull found in members of the deer family.  They are generally found only on males, with the exception of the caribou.   In early spring two patches about as big a loonie appear on a buck’s head.  Protected by a velvet-like thin skin that is a network of blood vessels and nerves they begin to produce bone cells at a rapid rate.  A healthy buck’s antlers can grow by three quarters of an inch each day.   If their bodies are not creating adequate calcium the deer will take the needed mineral from the non-supporting bones in its body.

In fall the velvet begins to shrink and gets incredibly itchy which is why deer can be seen rubbing their antlers against saplings and branches.  Once the velvet has been shed their new head gear is revealed in all its glory and set to perform their primary functions:  objects of sexual attraction and weapons in fights between males for control of harems.  After mating season they’ve served their purpose, and besides they are heavy and a bit of a nuisance in manoeuvring through thickets and forest.  So at some point during the winter, depending on location, they are shed – a process that can happen within a matter of hours.  The cycle will begin again in the spring.

On this day in 1803: The Balmis Expedition starts in Spain with the aim of vaccinating millions against smallpox in Spanish America and Philippines.

Valuable Recipes

Personally Tested and Vouched for by the Ladies whose names appear under the Recipes.

With that reassurance and trusting completely the good members of the Ladies Aid Society of Charlottetown’s First Methodist Church I purchased their Jubilee cookbook.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine,September 1877 – twenty years before they published their fine cookery book.

It was one of the many items at the Christmas Craft Fair at the Sir Andrew MacPhail Homestead. Both Laurent and I have written about this lovely heritage site near Orwell and always enjoy both the drive out there and the grounds themselves. The Christmas Fair was a fine display of Island home businesses: stolen made by a charming German couple who have recently moved here; works by an 81 year old water-colourist who was born and lived near Orwell all his life; winter wear from a nearby alpaca farm; comforting blankets and throws from a local wool mill; and a gentleman selling Christmas pudding from a recipe his grandmother used during rationing in the first world war.

After a light lunch of homemade turkey soup and cheese scones we left with one of those plum puddings, a lovely watercolour, and a facsimile copy of the ladies’ recipes for all manner of delicious cakes, cookies, salads and sundries.

Almost as much fun as the recipes (I noticed that no temperatures are given as a good housewife knows if the oven of her wood stove should be fast or slow) are the advertisements.  Everything from dentistry, to undertaker, to that stove, and possibly the coal to fire it.  Some are amusing in their (to our eyes) naivety, others could well be written by today’s advertisers.  Though I think the one that takes the cake (not Mrs G. D. Wright’s Porcupine Cake!) is the final one from Bright New Bakery and Grocery at the corner of Great George and Euston.  Proprietor L. C. Wright tells the purchaser that:


Not exactly a roaring endorsement of the culinary artistry of the ladies of First Methodist but business is business.  I photographed (rather clumsily but I didn’t want to break the spine of the book) a few of the 72 pages – 50 of which are devoted to advertisements – and put them together as a slide show.  A left click on the cover will take you to the Flikr page and the slide show will start automatically.  Should you wish to stop it and go from page to page the controls are the bottom left (▮▮  ▶ ).


I’ve decided that I will try Mrs. W. Weeks Jr’s recipe for lobster croquettes as indeed it would make a fine luncheon or dinner entree.


I’ll let you know how it turned out.

On this day in 1886:  Friedrich Soennecken first developed the hole puncher, a type of office tool capable of punching small holes in paper.

Of Sandwiching, Blocking and Binding

… and the beautiful results thereof

A quire of quilts filled St Paul’s Anglican during the Stories in Stitches 2017 exhibition.

I was surprised to discover how many of my friends are or have become quilters – including, in a blow for equality, a few men of my acquaintance.  I’ve been told it’s a relaxing if eventually obsessive hobby/occupation.  Though it is not a hobby I can see myself having either the patience or dexterity for I am more than appreciative of the finished results.  At the end of September there was a great opportunity to appreciate the glorious results of the work and artistry of Island quilters.

There were so many beautiful pieces on display and I took a goodly number of photos of some that I found particularly interesting.  Unfortunately in some cases I didn’t get the name of the quilt or the artist that created it and for that I apologize but where that information was captured I’ve included it in the captions.

With the celebration of Canada’s 150th year as a Confederation it was not surprising to see several quilts that commemorate that anniversary.

GLORIOUS AND FREE – exhibited by Roberta Giddings  based on a pattern from Quilter on Fire in BC and the work of Blueberry Cove LongArm Quilting Studio in Cardigan. (A right click will reveal the patterned fabric under the maple leaf.)
THE COAT OF ARMS OF CANADA – a traditional patchwork piece by Robin Petty at Petty Quilt Junction.
REMEMBERING – a lovely tribute in hand quilting and appliqué by Brenda MacKinnon.

Many patterns for quilts go back centuries – we know that Ulysses convinces Penelope of his identity by describing the counterpane or quilt on their wedding bed.  I’m sure none of quilts on display went back that far but many of the patterns were traditional however each bore the mark of the individual quilter or quilters.

DEAR JANE – this was hand quilted by Jean Steele and inspired by Jane Stickle’s American Civil War quilt from 1863.

Though some of the quilts were for sale many were unavailable as they had links to family or friends and special occasions.  There is still a strong tradition here of wedding, newborn, and anniversary quilts as gifts.

Again I did not get the name of the piece or the very talented quilter who created it.  The centre panel would appear to involve several techniques.  (A right click will bring it into close-up.)

And though the ubiquitous Anne of Green Gables is often joked about there is a great deal of pride in and love for Lucy Maud Montgomery here on the Island.  This is beautifully illustrated in this lovely quilt which was my hands-down favourite amongst so many beautiful creations in the exhibition.

MAUD’S ALBUM – hand quilted by Edith Zakem who worked in appliqué, embellishment, silk ribbon and hand embroidery.

I am hoping to do an extended post on this beautiful quilt with close ups and details as well as the story behind it – I was told it has travelled to Japan and back. However I wish to contact Mrs Zakem for information as well a permission to write about her work.

On this day in 1784: Russia founds a colony on Kodiak Island, Alaska.


Mercoledi Musicale

One of the first things I noticed was the tremendous wealth of musical and theatrical talent on the Island.  When Marlee, Evan, and I were putting together a 1920s cabaret for the PEI Symphony Orchestra fundraiser we had a wide array of performers and styles we could approach.  We ended up with an eclectic programme of performers reflecting the diversity of entertainers here in PEI.

Max Keenlyside

The evening began with Ben Aitken at the piano as folks gathered, ordered their Mary Pickfords (a very potent little 1920s cocktail), and perused the auction offerings.  The Cabaret was compèred by Peter Bevan Baker, the leader of the Green Party in our Legislature.  Later on in the evening he multi-tasked and played trumpet in The Little Big Band that provided dance music for the evening.  But first our line up: Katie Kerr – a well-know musical comedy performer, Brendan Howard Roy – a young singer on his way up, Lewis and Peters – a comedy duo on stilts (yes I said stilts!), a talented trio of ladies from the Charlottetown Burlesque (yep we have a Burlesque troupe here on PEI), the Charlottetown Swing dancers, and the young man in the picture to the right  – Max Keenlyside.

Max Keenlyside is a multi-talented performer: ragtime pianist and composer as well a piano restorer.  In this clip he performs the original version of Scott Joplin‘s The Ragtime Dance on a 1927 Mathias Schulz piano which he has recently acquired.  As a surprise during the stop-time section he switches between the Schulz and a 1850s Kirkman upright that he has restored.

Keenlyside also transcribes music – often from audio recordings, old piano rolls, or old manuscripts.  The Silver Swan is the only Scott Joplin piece that was issued on a piano roll rather than in music notation.   Max transcribed it from an original 1914 piano roll and also wrote an historical analysis of this late and until recently disputed Joplin piece.  He plays it on a restored Woodward & Brown square grand piano built in 1851 – a good half century before Joplin composed the piece.   The sheet music shown in the video is another of his projects:  Engraving musical scores in the classic style of old publishing houses.

As I said we have a wealth of talent here on the Island.

On this day in 1971: Having weakened after making landfall in Nicaragua the previous day, Hurricane Irene regains enough strength to be renamed Hurricane Olivia, making it the first known hurricane to cross from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific.