All the places to visit

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At the time of writing this (2017), it is Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. This celebrates the day when Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined together to form the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867.

There are a number of activities going on throughout Canada in connection with this anniversary.

  • Canada Parks is providing a free pass to all the national parks in Canada. Which one will you visit this year?
  • The Canada History Hall is opening on July 1st at the History Museum in Gatineau, Quebec.
  • One hundred and fifty murals are being painted in towns and cities throughout Canada to create a gigantic mural mosaic.
  • A photographer, Tim Van Horn, is travelling throughout Canada to capture 54,000 portraits of Canadians that will be made into a mosaic of the Canadian flag.
  • Canada C3 is a project to sail from Toronto around the Northwest Passage to Victoria and share it with all Canadians through the participants on board and digital media.

Activity: Draw up a bucket list for places to visit in your own home province this summer. Go province-wide or choose places close to your own community, or maybe even go right across the country. If you want to share photos, or your list of places to go, you are welcome to join the Getting to Know Canada facebook group. Here are some ideas…

  1. A national park
  2. A provincial park
  3. A wildlife preserve or zoo
  4. A natural history museum
  5. A farm
  6. A botanical garden
  7. A beach
  8. The best ice cream shop
  9. An art gallery
  10. An historic site

Here is our bucket list. We have decided to be more intentional in our “nature” journaling over the next year and so for the next school year I will be sharing our intentional journaling projects that hopefully will help us to get to know Canada better right in our own neighbourhood.

Click on it to download it, and then go have fun this summer!

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Inspirational Links:

The Gold Rush

Miners climb Chilkoot

In the year 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon along a stream called Rabbit Creek. It was renamed Bonanza Creek because it made a few men very rich indeed.

For the next couple years, 100,000 people tried to reach the goldfields from all over the world. Dawson City, from which the gold could be reached, grew from a sleepy town of 500 to over 30,000 in just two years. However, the gold didn’t last long, and by the summer of 1898, the rush was over.

Of those who set out to find their fortune, only 30,000 to 40,000 reached Dawson City. Of those, only 4000 actually struck gold, and of those, only a few hundred became rich.

There were several ways of reaching the places where gold was being found. Some took longer than others and many were exceptionally difficult due to the rugged terrain and the cold. The Chilkoot Pass was used by many. Its main ascent, the last 1000 feet, was called “The Scales”. At some point, steps were cut into the ice, creating a 1500 step staircase. This was nicknamed “The Golden Stairs”.

Today gold is still being mined from the earth at the rate of 2700 tonnes per year. However the days of finding nuggets within easy reach are over. Instead, over 80% of the gold mined today is extracted using cyanidation which is extremely environmentally unfriendly. A recent study has shown that cyanide could be replaced with a starch with the same effect and much less toxicity.

Gold is used mostly for jewellery, but also in electronics as it is an excellent conductor and doesn’t react easily to substances like air and water. It is also used in medical and dental procedures.

Here is a poem that captures what is was like to be a gold-digger in the Yukon:

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service, read by Johnny Cash and illustrated by Ted Harrison:

If you are able to, read Crazy for Goldcfcrazyforgold from the Canadian Flyer series.

Activity: A sourdough starter is a substance that is used to leaven bread in the absence of yeast or baking powder and it has become a nickname for gold prospectors. Many of them would carry a package of sourdough starter, of which a small amount when mixed with flour and water could be made into great bread.

Give it a try: Starter, Bread.

If you want to know more, this is an interesting website: A History of the Klondike

A Walk on the Tundra

You will have to dress warmly to visit the tundra. It is one of the coldest ecosystems on earth. During the winter the average temperature is -34 degrees Celsius although it can get much colder. The best time to visit may be in the summer when it averages 3-12 degrees Celsius, but keep in mind that the temperature only stays above freezing for about 50-60 days.

Tundra Swan

Photo by Don Faulkner (flickr)

When the snow melts in the spring, the water cannot sink down deep into the earth because only a few inches of the surface thaws. This creates ponds and marshes that provide food and shelter for millions of insects, birds and other creatures.

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The ground is covered with bumps and cracks because of the constant freezing and thawing. These are called polygons.

Ibyuk - Canada's Tallest Pingo - Viewed from Cessna 172 - Outside Tuktoyaktuk - Northwest Territories - Canada

Photo by Adam Jones (flickr)

In some places, water collects in pools underground, and when this freezes it pushes the earth up over and over again until low round hills are formed with ice centres. These are called pingos.

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Photo by NASA ICE (flickr)

The ground below the active layer (the top metre or less) is always frozen. It is called permafrost. For this reason, tall plants are not as likely to grow here because they cannot root deep enough. Instead plants tend to grow outwards. The season is also very short, which means that plants must grow, flower, and spread their seeds in just a few weeks.

This is cotton grass. Although it may seem unlikely in such an environment, over 1700 species of plants live on the tundra. They must be suited to little precipitation, strong winds and extreme temperatures.

Lemming and Snow Bunting

Photo by Fiona Hunt (flickr)

There are many animals that live in the tundra. Here is a snow bunting, a brave little arctic bird, and a lemming. Lemmings stay awake all through the long, cold winter, tunneling under the snow to find food: mosses, lichens, bark and some grasses.

Although it may seem bleak and barren, the tundra is very much a living ecosystem. However, since growth is slow in this part of the world, it also recovers much more slowly from damage such as oil spills or vehicles traffic. The climate seems to be warming as well, which is melting permafrost and changing the landscape as hillsides slide away and land collapses as the ice holding it up disappears. The melting permafrost is thought to be releasing large amounts of methane gas which contributes to climate change.

Activity: What are some actions that you could take to stop contributing to climate change?

Art of Northern Canada

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Saila, Pauta, 1964-1965, CD 1964/65-054 Photo © CMC

The Inuit have been expert carvers for generations, carving tools and weapons as well as small decorative items from stone, bone, ivory and wood. Today, carving in stone (usually serpentine) is most popular. However, the stone has to be quarried in places that are usually far from settlements, and then carried by hand, sled and boat back to town.

In 1957, James Houston, began an experiment in Cape Dorset with a group of Inuit artists. He opened a craft shop and they started making prints using stencils and relief carved into floor tiles. They turned out to be very popular when sent south for display.

James then went to Japan to study printmaking and used this knowledge to teach them to further develop their own style of carving into stone and making beautiful prints. This cooperative still exists and each years produces a collection of various types of prints.

Kenojuak Ashevak was one of the original artists, contributing to every Cape Dorset collection until her death in 2013. She was born in 1927, and lived in the traditional Inuit lifestyle growing up. Inuit art tells the story of the traditional Inuit way of life and of the Arctic birds, animals and sea mammals that they co-exist with. As well, their own myths and legends are woven into their work.

Activity: Try your own hand a printmaking with this lesson from Leah Jay Art.

More information: Mining in Nunavut; Dorset Fine Arts

How to keep warm Inuit-style

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The climate in the far north of Canada is cold. The average temperature in Iqaluit is -10 degrees Celsius. It may get up to 12 degrees Celsius during the three months of summer, but winter is down in the -30s. How did they keep warm before central heating and down-filled jackets?

A basic principle to keeping warm is that air is not a good conductor of heat. This is because the molecules in air are far apart and cannot as easily transfer to one another. So, igloos were warm because snow is full of air and once the air inside the igloo is warmed up by fire, it does not easily transfer to the outside.

The same principle works with clothing. Their clothing was made to fit loosely so that body heat would stay inside, and of animal skin with hair which captured air. But it was very important to not sweat, as this would lead to frozen clothing that no longer held heat.

Clothing in the Arctic was made from various animals such as caribou, seal, waterfowl, polar bear, and even the intestines of sea mammals. We will just look at the process of making a living caribou into some nice warm clothes.

First, the caribou had to hunted and killed. Hunting caribou was usually done from August to October as their coats were nice and thick at this time. To make clothing for a family of five, one would need about thirty caribou.

Caribou from unsplash.com

The skin of the caribou had to be scraped clean, dried, stretched, rescraped, then chewed to make it soft and pliable. Hours went into the preparation of each skin.

The threads to sew it with also came from the caribou. The dorsal tendons from along the vertebrae were best for sewing. They had to be scraped clean, then washed and partly dried. They needed to be kept cool and not allowed to dry out completely. The tendons were split into sinews using the teeth or thumbnail.

Each person needed a parka with a hood, a pair of trousers, and mitts to wear on the outside, as well as a second pair of trousers and footwear underneath. Boots were often made of sealskin because it was waterproof. Small children were carried around in the hood of their mother’s parka until they were too big, and then they wore an all-in-one combination suit.

The caribou skin was cut with a razor-sharp ulu, being careful to cut just the skin and not the hair. Then it was sewed together carefully with a bone needle. Fringes were often added to the bottom of the parka to keep the wind out.

Enfants Inuits 1925

By Captain George E. Mack [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Activity: The making of clothing was grown-up work, but the availability of sinew or thongs from sealskin also provided entertainment. Stories could be told with a piece of string as it was made into pictures of animals and birds and kayaks or sledges. Here is a string game called “Cat’s Cradle” which you can learn.

Northern Lights

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of northern Canada (besides snow) is the northern lights: the amazing light show created by the sun.

Of course, the northern lights can only be seen when the sky is dark and since the sun doesn’t set  in the summer, it is only visible from September to March.

The lights also depend on activity on the sun. They are powered by particles that are thrown out by the sun and solar flares tend to make the lights brigher. These particles hit atoms in the earth’s atmosphere which then light up. The colour depends on what gases are being hit by the particles. Oxygen tends to glow red or green, and nitrogen red or blue.

This activity produces enormous amounts of electricity. In fact, they produce 1000 times what the largest generator in the world can produce.

Sometimes this can interfere with things on the earth, confusing radio signals, making compasses point the wrong way, and sometimes overloading power and telephone lines with electrical current.

The lights occur in the thermosphere around earth. The lowest edge of the curtain of light is around 96 km above the earth (10 times higher than most airplanes fly) and it can reach up 321 km.

When the northern lights or aurora borealis is happening in the north, the same show is happening in the far south and is called the aurora australis.

Watch the northern lights in a real-time film by Alexis Coram.

Activity: Make some northern light art using chalk and black paper.

Northern Canada

This week we will look at photos of places in northern Canada: Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

St Elias Mountains with beaver lodge 1340

St. Elias Mountains, Yukon by Amanda Graham

Baffin Island Davis Strait

Baffin Island by NASA ICE

Tombstone Mountains

Tombstone Mountains, Yukon by Joseph

Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway Tundra by Astrid Van Wesenbeeck

Siku

Frobisher Bay Sea Ice, Nunavut by Fiona Hunt

Activity: Use a good atlas or google maps to find the places referred to in these photos and mark them on your map of Canada.

Climbing a Mountain

A mountain is defined as a physical feature that rises more than 300 meters (1000 feet) above the surrounding landscape. The tallest mountain in Canada is Mount Logan in the Yukon at 5959 meters (19,551 feet).

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Mountains store water on their peaks in the form of snow and gradually release it into the valleys below. They also affect climate as air is deflected up and as the air rises it loses its moisture in the form of rain creating the rain shadow effect. The other side tends to be drier.

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There are several mountain ranges on the western side of Canada with the Rocky Mountains probably being the most well known. So we are going to climb Ha Ling Peak, near Canmore, Alberta in the Rocky Mountain Range.

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The lower part of a mountain is mostly broadleaf forests. As you get higher this changes to conifers such as pine and spruce.

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The trees gradually thin out until it is mostly small alpine plants, and the top is bare rock. Mountains are gradually worn down by water (flowing and freezing), wind, and even the roots of plants splitting the rock.

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As you climb a mountain, the temperature drops about 6 degrees Celsius for every 1000 meters. The height can also have an effect on your body as there is less oxygen available as you go higher making you feel breathless and dizzy.

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Coming back down the mountain was probably harder than going up.

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Here are some friends we met along the way: A Rocky Mountain Goat and a Bighorn Sheep.

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Activity: Mountains are made of rock, but it’s not quite that simple. There are lots of different kinds of rock. The Rocky Mountains are made of mostly limestone, dolomite, sandstone and shale. What kinds of rocks do you have where you live? Here is a website that may help you to identify them: Geology.com

Sea Otters

The Sea Otter is one of the smallest and cutest marine mammals. They were almost hunted to extinction for their beautiful fur about a hundred years ago, in fact, they disappeared from the coastline of British Columbia. They were reintroduced to the west coast of Vancouver Island around 1970, and protected, and the population has done well.

They are extremely important for the well-being of the coastline ecology because sea otters eat sea urchins and shellfish, which can crowd out seaweeds such as kelp. Kelp takes huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and releases oxygen which is good for the earth.

Sea Otters on Canadian Geographic: Animal Facts Page

seaotterinletThis is a lovely book to read: Sea Otter Inlet by Celia Godkin.

Without the sea otter to eat them, the spiny purple sea urchins began to multiply.

There is a balance in nature, and when one part is removed, it has an effect on all the other parts.

Activity: A food web shows feeding relationships – who eats what in an ecosystem. See if you can make a food web that includes the plants and creatures you come across in this book.

seaottersAnother book option is: What if there were no sea otters? by Suzanne Slade.

Art of the West Coast

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The first people of the Pacific Northwest were carvers of wood. They had lots of big trees to choose from, but the favourite was red or yellow cedar. They cut planks and beams out of it to build their houses, hollowed it out to make canoes, grooved and steamed thin planks to make bent boxes, carved out totem poles, and whittled out of it many other tools and household utensils.

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Haisla canoe (UBC-2009)

The symbols they carved or painted on their works often brought to mind tales that explained the world around them. They were excellent story-tellers. Here is a story from a collection of Totem Tales:

The Rain Song

Totem Tales: Indian Stories Indians Told Gathered in the Pacific Northwest, by W.S. Phillips

The Talking Pine nodded in friendly greeting as I got out of the canoe and came up to my usual place at the foot of the great tree:

“Klahowya, T’solo, the wanderer, it is well that you came to-day, for to-day the pines will sing the rain song, and you shall sing with us, for it is a good song and one to know.”

“So be it, Wise One, I will learn the rain song, that I may know it when I am in other lands. It is a good song to know when the air is dry, and you can get no water for your throat. I will learn the rain song of you, Wise One.”

“Come, T’solo, the wanderer, and sit at my feet, where I can spread my arms over you and keep the rain away.

“Now when the wind comes all the pines will sing the wind song and dance the wind dance before they sing the rain song. You know, my friend T’solo, that the wind must always come to help the pines sing, so be not impatient to hear the rain song until the wind can help us.”

So I sat down by the feet of the Talking Pine, and smoked my pipe and waited for the coming of the wind to see the wind dance, and hear the rain song.

Soon the wind came slowly out of the Southwest and the pines began to sing and the wind sang with them. At first, so softly I could scarce hear it, and I asked the Talking Pine, “Do you sing, Wise One?” “Yea, listen,” answered he.

Then I heard the wind song, for it had gathered strength as all the pines began to sing, and I could hear it very plainly. Then the pines all began to dance and to swing their long arms in time with the song, and to sway and sing until they were all mad with the dance, and I thought they would fall.

The song was wild and mournful, as it always is, and they sing it in the language of the pines, so one must know their talk to learn the words they sing.

I heard them calling the rain to come out from behind the clouds and sing with them. Then the rain rode down with the wind, and some rested on the pines, but most of it went on down and sung with the flowers and the grass; for the rain, you know, is restless and cannot stay long in one place.

The pines all love the rain and always sing the rain song when they see it coming in the clouds, so it will stop and sing with them.

For a long time the pines and the rain sung together, then the rain went away, and the wind went with it, and the pines were left all alone.

The wind, you know, is never tired, and travels all the time, so the pines always call the wind to help them dance, and they always go to sleep when the wind goes away, and the sun wraps his warm blanket around them.

“It was a good dance,” said the Talking Pine, when they had finished and the wind had gone. “Come again, T’solo, the wanderer, and I will show you other things, and sing other songs, but now I sleep.”

Then I got in my canoe and crossed the Lake of the Mountains, and left the Talking Pine to sleep out his sleep until another time.

Activity: It is fun to learn how to carve wood, but if you are just a beginner, it may be better to start with something a little softer. First choice would be carving an apple head: Applehead Doll. If you want something a little more challenging, you could try carving soap. Have fun! If you don’t want to try carving, maybe you would like to draw a picture from the Totem Tale.

Here are a few contemporary Canadian wood artists to be inspired by: Coast Raven Native ArtRobinson CookBob Whitehead