Showing posts from 2013

Slavo Cech

As a boy, I learned my love of urban light from the CN Tower logo in downtown Edmonton. What I didn't know all those years ago was that Slavo was staring at the building, too.

The logo came into the world four years before I was born into a north-end railroad (yes, Canadian National) family. I learned later that some critics dismissed it as twisted paperclip. That's good, too, but, just not as good as the logo. The tower went up two years after I was born. We've been in this together.

I didn't see it a lot, but, on the special evenings we were downtown for dinner or a musical performance, I would always make a point of looking up at it. And it burned its way in. Because it wasn't just a lit logo that sat there like an unblinking eye. And it didn't flash manically like lights at a car dealership.

Elegantly, it revealed itself. Fluidly, it moved from the C into the N, taking my eye with it, forcing an inaudible voice inside me to say C-N. Its path, of course, re…


The channel has been changed, for now, on the image of our Edmonton winter, thanks to a 90-second Apple commercial called Misunderstood:

The spot tells the story of a seemingly self-absorbed teenager who appears to care only about communing with his technology. As it turns out, however, he is actually playing the role of family memory keeper, using his iPhone to record those emotional sights and evanescent sounds of family togetherness.

The video was shot in Edmonton, and that makes this winter city the background of an Apple ad. The significance of it all is at the forefront of discussion this evening in social media. After all, the iconic images of Edmonton are river valley in the summer or fall. Celebrating winter is more than a bit out there for us.

Paula Simons, the Edmonton Journal's best connection to the reality of this place, put it this way: "All that snow. That blue sky. Those icicles on the eaves. It seems Apple, with the almighty power of its global brand, has …

Stieda's Point: People Riding Bikes

The Tour of Alberta has almost toured through Alberta and soon the usual questions will come into view: was it worth the investment? should it be an annual event? are you really trying to tell me the peloton has a mind of its own? And, of course, what the hell is a peloton and is it native to Alberta?

But there is another question that has been quietly dropped into the mix, or maybe it's a reminder, or a challenge or a nudge. And it came from Alex Stieda, the driving force behind the Tour of Alberta. It hasn't gotten much attention.

What has gotten the attention are those usual questions. The economic development questions. They are legitimate questions. Here is where I am going:

@jdkrabbe asks
@doniveson What can you do as Mayor to make the Tour of Alberta an even bigger success in 2014? 11:20 PM - 3 Sep 2013

@doniveson is a thoughtful city councillor running for Edmonton mayor. He rides a bike, his wife is a bicycle-riding blogger, he routinely leaves us with thought-provokin…

Bicycle Shorts

Cycling has for me long been connected to the movies. Or, closer to what I mean, the spinning wheels of the film projector.

(Cycling, for me, is also about writing, especially on a blank-sheet-white road across which I leave a mark of my meanderings. But that's a winter thought. For now, it's movies.)

Some times that sense of being at the movies while sitting on my saddle happens when the morning September sun projects my moving shadow, just slightly ahead, onto the McKenzie Ravine bridge fence.

Last night, on my ride home from downtown, it was less that feeling of making movies as watching them unfold in short scenes as I pedal by. This sense is doubtless aided by the fact I typically have a GoPro rolling from my handlebars, but this, in eight short scenes with a director's commentary added in the frame's upper left corner, is what I mean:

Being open to the time that cycling provides to see things, and see things not whiz by, is its only price of admission.

High River Reality

In the rush to brand the flood disaster in southern Alberta, devise slogans, whip up Twitter momentum, come up with T-shirts, and then move on to the Stampede, High River has been forgotten.

No, not completely forgotten, but certainly not a beneficiary of the buzz that helped neighbourhoods in Calgary bail out, mop up and make waves nationally. 
High River is a disaster. For sure, the Highwood routinely floods. And if it's true, as was explained to me by locals, that the riverbed becomes a troublesome, undredged deposit of silt that regularly pushes water over the banks, there are questions to be answered. But there are also basements to be pumped dry, mould to be outrun, drywall to be crowbarred, and mud, mud, and mud that is almost alive to be moved. 
Along with some mud-non-averse colleagues from ATB Financial, I went down to High River yesterday to help. We were welcomed into the waterlogged homes of Sandy and Craig. 
On the walk there we saw a section of railway line twisted…

Paul Lorieau, RIP

Paul Lorieau, the tenor who could make you forget there was a faceoff only a minute or so away, has died, and Edmonton today is full of stories and memories of the anthemic voice for decades of the Edmonton Oilers.

In the Oilers' 2006 Stanley Cup run, Lorieau left us spellbound with his raised microphone, an invitation to the fans, so rousingly accepted, to sing the national anthem together.

Think about that for just a second. The trained voice, the student of voice, the artist with the camera trained on him freely chooses silence, so that the full-throated, beer-holstered hockey throng could experience the joy of singing themselves into a northeast Edmonton night.

Now, we contemplate the meaning of the silence choosing Paul Lorieau.

Countless times on TV and many times in person in the Coliseum I experienced Lorieau's singing O Canada. Once, I met him.

It was on a small rink that a band of friends at CTV Edmonton (Hoop, Raymo, Dub, Kobes)  watered into being on a lovely piec…

After The Flood

As we bused back north up Highway 2, the military vehicles streamed south. I was with some ATB Financial colleagues who were finishing up the first leg of a province-wide tour to mark the 75th anniversary of the financial institution born in a disaster of too little water. Now, a disaster of too much. 
The camouflaged vehicles presented both a welcome and an eerie prospect. Yes, the uniformed men and women were bringing their engineering skill and sandbagging brawn, but the movement of those same vehicles whispered that this was, maybe, a state of nature (and not of the tourism variety) they were heading toward. 
Back moving through Edmonton on that Friday afternoon, a scheduled drink at Latitude 53 just ahead of me, the scenes through the bus window were jarring. Not because they were hard to see. They weren't. They were the easy images of friends talking on the steps of the Hotel Macdonald. And of a businessman running to get a waiting cab. And of green lights and red lights an…

Rush Of Memories

I was bored out of my mind for most of 1981.

It was Grade 11 and I had some good friends, but high school was pretty much a loss for me. French class was good, but, basically, I got through thanks to an underground newspaper I was part of (it was a beta version of with some liberation theology and Solidarnosc theory thrown in; it got our editor-in-chief thrown out) and the debate club, which taught me about Winston Churchill, my own voice, and the necessity of actually responding to interlocutors and not just making sound toward each other.

And Rush.

Rush got me through.

My buddy Bruce, whose passion for I forget her name was matched only by his devotion to Neil Peart, installed me in the mysteries of the Willowdale power trio. We were the only Rush fans I knew of. Kind of a secret society. In his basement (he lived down the lane from us in Delwood, which was then a frontier neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton) we listened to this band that sounded like nothing else.…

Bow Tie

We finally met and tied one on tonight. The encounter had been years in the making. I just didn't think it would involve me and the mayor of Edmonton and my wife with a video camera in front of a washroom mirror in an artist's colony on 118 Ave.

The Nina Haggerty Centre is a wonderful hub of hope in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood. Tonight it hosted the Alberta Artists With Brain Injury Society on the happy occasion of its 10th anniversary. Shelagh serves on the Nina board, so I get to hang out there every now and then. Tonight, artists, board members, community leaders met to celebrate the event and there were beautiful words spoken by those who help artists with damaged pathways get around their obstacles and to a place where they again, in paint, plastic, glass, fabric and ink, can make their voices heard and imaginations felt.

Mayor Stephen Mandel dropped in again and praised the work of all involved. When he and I had a chance to talk, I took the opportunity to ask him t…

This Is My Country

If you simply saw me sitting listening to the radio in Shelagh's car in the IGA parking lot this afternoon, sitting there with a full propane tank on the front seat and an empty one in the back, shoppers coming and going, there would be no way into the story of that moment. I suppose that's why the modality of the visual doesn't get much at all.

The previous hour had been small-stuff frustrating. It started as I waved the white flag in my battle against the University of Alberta's research approval website. I don't have the keenest online instincts and I tend to panic when counterintuitive obstacles arise, but that site is byzantine in its corridors and complexity. For a change of pace, I went to get some propane for a barbecue. Online man, pass the torch to caveman.

I stopped to get money on the way and got to the Hughes on 178 St. just in time to realize I had left the propane tank at home. Perfect. Back home, back to Hughes only to be told "your tank can&#…

The Question For Alistair MacLeod I Didn't Ask

Shelagh Rogers had just finished interviewing Alistair MacLeod. Their conversation, which (false :) ranged from his driving an N.A.D.P. milk wagon in young Edmonton, through his thoughts about a chandelier's point of view and on to his sense of the vanished in our interior and exterior landscapes, kicked off the Words In 3D Conference happening this weekend at MacEwan.

It was an enjoyable chat to listen in on. Two people who know about words written (MacLeod) and breathed (Rogers) talking about the literary sensibility, the changed perspectives that time delivers, the mystery of metaphor.

And then it was time for the punctuation mark on the evening: questions from the audience.

The questions, as Rogers graciously acknowledged, promising them a home in an upcoming CBC The Next Chapter podcast, were good. Was MacLeod a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes? What did he learn from his students? Can creative writing be taught? A question about the horses on the milk wagon. And m…

It Wasn't A News Story

My bicycle handlebar video will never make the wild and extreme Go Pro video of the week. It's not shot down the side of a volcano or beside a coral reef. And it will never rise to the level of the Russian Dashboard Masters whose fixed cameras cams routinely capture meteors and crashing planes. The scenes I am interested in recording are more mundane. The sun in the east as I roll up to 124 Street, for one.

But the more I record my rides the more I have developed an almost actuarial sense of the dangers out there. Or the dangers in there. Like the scene that presented itself in slo-motion this morning as a young girl intent on getting to her school bus on time got to her school bus on time. She is alive tonight because the car driver hit the brakes. What didn't become a news story starts at about the seven-second mark as she runs out from the left part of the frame.

That was too close. And then the morning went on.


Here is what Mayor Stephen Mandel has taught me about political leadership: arrive in your own vehicle.  Here is what I mean. 
A few years ago, when I was still working at CTV, our newsroom had a travelling slo-pitch team. The idea was we would get a side together and travel out to your community diamond, bring a news camera along, shoot some "highlights" (usually Dan Kobe making a good play) and plug your neighbourhood or agency initiative in the process. It was a lot of fun.
But that's not the item.
One evening we were playing the good people at the Mustard Seed Church on the inner-city ball field in Boyle Street. Shopping cart poverty pushed past. There was some despair sitting in a small circle in right field. I removed a couple of hypodermic needles from the base path between first and second base. We had invited the mayor to join us and, with the warmup under way, he roared into the parking lot in his late-model Mercedes Benz and jumped out. 
That's not really…


Yesterday as I was cycling to work east down 102 Ave. a motorist in the lane to my left slowed down, rolled down his passenger-side window and yelled out:

"Hey, is that a video camera on your bike?"
"Yeah," I said. "It's my Go Pro."
"Wow, that's pretty cool. So, like, you're getting video when you ride?
"I am," I said. "Not all the time, but it kinda keeps me safer."
"Right on. Ride safe, man."
"See ya!"

The rolling encounter reinforced my feeling that, yes, inside that engineering marvel is a cyborg and inside that cyborg is just another guy, in this case a guy who cares either about cyclists or video, or both. But it also made me realize again that that route to safety via video is a convoluted path. Does it really make me safer?

Not in that moment, I admit.

But studying the video afterwards does help prepare me to notice patterns and anticipate dangers. And being able to share what I find does g…

Pumped Up, Ready To Show!

There is a lot you can say about the couple, Will and Monifa Sims, shown in this video. And there is a lot the couple in this video can show us about ourselves. Things like what makes us smile and share and maybe wish we could be like more often.

I love the fact that this video is set in that most ambiguous of locations: the gas station. Because it's there that we are alternatively reminded of the freedom that waits down the road, and the price of that four-wheeled, fuel-injected liberty. There we contemplate, even as the dollars-and-cents numbers contort their way up in an abracadabra-like cardinal value march, how, simultaneously, we are drawing down both our disposable income and our stores of the non-renewable resource in that very same act of  filling up.  And, so, to witness joy and song and love in a setting that is the natural backdrop for none of those renewable resources is incongruity at its surprising best.

I love how rock star Will transforms the nozzle and hose into…

Science? Check✓

Today, Hockey Alberta's science, or its marketing instincts, finally caught up to common sense as the organization announced, come fall, bodychecking will be illegal in peewee hockey.

A comprehensive study of concussion rates conducted by the University of Calgary was highlighted and celebrated as the impetus for the policy change. So, congratulations and thank you to the academics involved. But you also get the sense this wasn't just a triumph for post-secondary research. It was also driven by the need to retain young athletes in the sport and the need to keep lawsuits away.

But whatever the real motivation, it's a good move. It's good to remove hitting in an age group characterized by wild discrepancies in skill and body size and ability to hurt a fellow hockey player.

And it's a good move because it runs counter to the cruel streak in some hockey parents. (Trust me, you don't know who you are!) They'll counter today's move by saying things like: you…


May 5

This will be first in an ongoing series of fragments, overheard comments, meditations, memories and musings about the weather. It's too big a topic for a single blog, but I hope to collect thoughts as they blow in, bundle them up, and pick through them later.

WhetherWeather stems from the intuition that the weather in this part of Alberta not only shapes the land but the people and the politics here. That there is weather inside of us as surely as outside. That there are interesting thoughts to be thought about the very fact we complain about the weather. That an endless summer day here is, in a sense, as fragile and brittle as deep, dark December.

I will also devote a future blog in its entirety to Jeff Lynne's masterpiece, Mr. Blue Sky.

But for now, it's a look back on today. This is called Just Add Blue Sky.

May 6

The first eight words spoken in our house this morning came from Shelagh: "They say it's going to be 30 today." But that's only half th…

Via Italia

If there's a better place for beautiful stories and capturing love on camera than the Edmonton International Airport, please tell me.

Here's our morning as Shelagh and I and then Shelagh and then Shelagh said goodbye to Alex, who is off to Italy for a month to finish his B.A.

I have always loved going to that airport. It's a further in, further out kind of place. The world feels different there. Songs come into your head.

Have a great time, Alex! We love you.


Who knows how many cameras are pointed at us as we walk, drive, shop, bus, bank, and do virtually every other activity in between? And who knows what the real effect will be of living in that kind of velvet panopticon?

There seems to be no end to the uses that cameras are put, especially by police and civic authorities who have figured out that both safety and the bottom line can be shored up by innovations such as red light cameras and speed on green cameras. Years ago I actually got a ticket for turning right off Jasper Ave onto 116 St without fulling stopping my car first. This is the non-blinking eye of the modern Cycops.

As an experiment, I have joined the watchers, recording my cycling commute from my bicycle handlebars, rolling as I roll. There is no way to raise money by fining the registered owners of the vehicles that commit small crimes against cycling. But I can try to raise some awareness, so the chain of these outrages is somehow broken!

Because cyclists don't have …

(Go)Pro-litical Science

On my daily bike commute I now hit record as I dig into my first pedal. My GoPro camera attaches to the handlebar and gives me a sense of security, perhaps false. Rolling while I am rolling may simply capture a fall or a crash and not prevent them. But knowing that my decisions are also being recorded has has made me a more careful rider.

And, unavoidably, having access to the data makes me a bit of a cycosocial scientist.

Today, waiting for the lights on 136 St, the bike's eye pointed south, I counted westbound vehicles and occupants per vehicle.

By the camera's count, 33 private vehicles and two city buses went by. It was not possible to see into back seats to determine if a child or children or other big-person passengers were being conveyed. And at least two of the vehicles were positioned in such a way as to make inconclusive any determination of occupants in the front seats. Having said that, of the 31 other vehicles, only four clearly had more than one occupant in the …

Dear Frank

Here is the latest in a periodic series of emails I have written to famous musicians.

Dear Frank, 
Hello from Edmonton, Canada. From a dining room table in a house in a little bungalow in a west end neighbourhood of Edmonton, Canada. Where just now, thanks to your music, a neat little scene in the history of fathers and sons unfolded. 

Michael is our youngest son. He's a big fan of yours. As I type that last sentence the cliche alarm goes off. Big fan of yours. What that really means is he is a thoughtful, sensitive teenager in North America at a time when nobody with the money and power to get images in his head really gives a shit about him. And because he instinctively knows that, your music gets through.
And to us. 
Through his bedroom door as he sings and strums your music. From the laptop as he shares your music. 
Just now we listened to Nashville, Tennessee together. And talked about knowing who you are, where you're from, what your voice is when that knowledge and that …