Canada toor 2014 – Post 3. Cycling.

Only a few days have passed since my last blog post but we’ve done quite a lot since then so instead of writing a really log update in a few days I thought I’d write a mini post. Well, mini compared to the other posts I’ve written since arriving in Canada.

The last time I wrote we were still in Winnipeg. We left there on Tuesday morning to take a flight to Ontario before driving for three hours to a small town in Quebec called Shannon. Over all, we were traveling for about 9 hours but it was a very relaxed and easy going trip. Now that we all know each other better and we had a few days to relax and recharge the batteries in Winnipeg we worked together very well organizing baggage, getting through security, sharing out hand luggage, collecting baggage at the other end and finally meeting with the coordinators for the eastern part of our trip around Canada. We also met with our new driver and his very new and comfortable bus. It’s one thing that has to be said. The tour coordinators in Canada are very mindful of our comfort while traveling. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be as well rested and as able to perform every night.

We finally arrived to Shannon at about 10:30PM on Tuesday night and settled in right away with our host families or billets as they are sometimes called. The host family I stayed with had a house on a substantial plot of forested land. The house was nestled in a small clearing right in the middle. It was very obvious that the house was a labour of love as one of the first things we were told was that they had been working on it gradually since 1981. It’s beautiful. All wooden using pine primarily. The living area, kitchen and stairs were very open and the bedrooms were spacious without being over large. It is not a style that I’ve ever come across before. I asked if it was modelled on a French template but they put a lot of ideas together to find a design that fit their life style.

The couple have a fantastic sense of humour. Getting along with them was absolutely effortless. Almost as soon as we met they were relaxed and making fun of us. It’s something that we have often commented about while over here. Many of the Canadians have a similar sense of humour to the Irish.

Quebec is an interesting region. Its official language is French Anyone moving there are provide with free French lessons that although are not compulsory are required for social and employment reasons. What’s really impressive is that within the space of one generation, the people of Quebec successfully transferred their primary language so that an entire generation were fluent. The methods they used to accomplish this were aggressive in the nonviolent sense of the word. They created laws that dictated that local business must be carried out in French, marketing in the area must be in French, and schools would teach using French with optional English classes and all government functions would be carried out in French. They are very strict when it comes to this however, what is even more interesting is the centre of Quebec is now very popular for IT companies. Specifically for an unknown reason for video game developers. As they are not targeting their businesses at the Quebec region, they work around many of the requirements to operate their business using French. In Saskatoon, the property tax goes toward schooling but as I said before, they can elect to direct your money toward religious schools or public schools. If you don’t specify a preference, your money will go toward the public school system. In Quebec they don’t seem to have this choice. All money goes toward French speaking schools and as the region is vastly catholic the same options may not need to be available. The Quebec region is different to Canada in a number of significant ways. Their local government has a four year cycle. Every two years they have an election. One election is for the president of the country and local representatives but the second election two years later is for the local officials. For example, the head of the school board would be elected during this time. In Ireland for example, the executive that is elected in Quebec every four years are not elected by the people. They are appointed by the elected representatives in some cases but ordinarily, they retain their positions for a long time. In Quebec it is unlikely that they will retain their responsibilities unless the people allow it. This is a much more fair system in my opinion. Another very interesting thing I learned about Quebec is they have a separatist party. This party want to negotiate Quebec’s independence from Canada. In forty years they have not been successful but they have come close. During the last referendum they were beaten by a small margin. The referendum wasn’t to vote for Quebec to be a separate state, it was to vote to enter into negotiations toward this goal with Canada. The problem that they may face is Canada has a lot of det. If Quebec separates from Canada, they will need to accept a portion of this det. Strange but this is the first time I’ve heard about this problem. In Saskatoon they either weren’t affected by this financial issue or they weren’t bothered by it.

We had a tour around Quebec City on Wednesday including the old city. Unfortunately it rained quite heavily so we didn’t get to go on foot so I missed a lot of information but I took the opportunity to ask a lot of political and social questions. I’m not surprised at the differences between regions. Canada is a vast country. It doesn’t seem possible that a centralized government could successfully manage a country of this size. Equally, a decentralized government win Ireland when compared to Canada doesn’t make any sense either. We’re too small to need that kind of decentralized governance. That’s only when taken within the context of Canada.

Last night, we played in the Shannon community hall. Again, the audience were wonderful. It’s rare to find such a warm, interactive, interested and knowledgeable audience but in Shannon, with roads like Dublin road and Monaghan road I shouldn’t have been surprised. The room was full of Canadian accents with names like McCarthy, Murphy and Kelly. Fifth generation Irish spoke with voices that I’d associate with the north of the country but accents from Canada. One thing that I am finding very fulfilling and rewarding is listening to the stories and songs from people like William Kelly, a local of Shannon. His descendants left Ireland in 1842 to find a better life during the time of the potato famine. He sang a song about emigrants who had left Ireland and arrived in Canada. It told of their challenges in Canada, their down falls and their successes. I hears stories of Irish workers that prospered and tragic stories of families killed by landslides. I also heard of stories where children survived when their parents perished on the way from Ireland by boat to arrive in Canada. They were taken in by Irish families that had come before. They retained their family names and they spread their songs and stories. Of course, I also heard of the families torn apart when children that got off the boat wondered off alone and fell off a nearby cliff. Such sad and happy stories that I had never heard before. What was lovely was they were from a completely different perspective. In Ireland, we sing songs of emigration and loss but the songs that I’m hearing here are in the same style, from the same tradition but they are about people from Ireland arriving here. What’s even more brilliant is they are passed down to this generation in the same way we pass down traditional music in Ireland today. In sessions and performances. I have no words to describe how proud I am of the Irish who came over here. They survived a journey across the ocean that we can’t begin to imagine, they started with nothing in Canada and not only did many of them thrive, they built a tradition in Canada that has lasted to this day. At one point the population of Quebec was 50% Irish. Now it’s about 3%. Many have died but many have moved to other parts of Canada. Still, the sense of identity and culture is very strong in Quebec. Even though the French culture has become much more dominant.

This morning, Thursday we are traveling again. I’ll provide details in my next blog post. What’s great about today is I got to go for a cycle. The family I was staying with had a tandem so when they learned that I loved to cycle they were thrilled. Phil, the man of the house suggested that if it wasn’t raining that we head out at 7AM. Unfortunately, we only did about 15KM but what a cycle! Phil is a big strong six foot man and without bragging, I’m a lot stronger than I look. We got fantastic speeds even up hill. Phil is a very experienced cyclist so even going through corners at a good speed was no problem to him. The tandem that he has is about 20 years old but it’s well maintained and reasonably comfortable. It gets better! We cycled on a dedicated cycle path. The cycle path was a rail track up to about twenty years ago. It’s therefore quite flat and very mature. It’s a two meter wide path that spans about 64KM. It goes through the heavily forested countryside just outside Shannon town. Parts of It are a little more open but over all, it’s very quiet and isolated. This reminds me of one important point. Shannon smells and sounds fantastic. It’s a blind person’s oasis. The trees, plants and fresh air are like a holiday for your senses. The birds and wild life sound amazing. On the cycle earlier, while speeding at a really comfortable pace through the forest, I was almost high with the exhilaration of the purity of the sounds and smells. The path was quite soft in places as it had rained quite heavily yesterday but this just added to the experience. I doubt there are many cycle paths quite like it.

We’re now on the bus for a seven hour trip. I’ll write more in a few days.

Thanks to everyone in Shannon for making our time there an unforgettable one. You truly live in one of the nicest parts of the world.