Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tom and Nixon

     Last week Marie and I welcomed two new members of the family home, Nixon the Agate canary and Tom the English budgie. Nixon is a wonderful singer, from a long line of great singers, his songs full of bass and flute notes, with occasional bell and bubbling water sounds filling the house as he welcomes the rising sun. Tom is the quiet taciturn type who says little but likes to sit on your shoulder and occasionally grumble about nothing in particular. Perhaps he got that from me....They live in separate cages, and even though Tom has the run of the place, he has already bonded with Nixon and can be usually found sitting on Nixon's cage as close as he can to his new buddy. The house is always filled with song now from 7am till sundown and, although it doesn't look or feel like spring outside, winter has finally been put to rest from within.  gws

It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds
Sing away, ay, sing away, Merry little bird

You have to believe in happiness,
Or happiness never comes ...
Ah, that's the reason a bird can sing -
On his darkest day he believes in Spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mass Intention for Patrick


     This past Friday the family and friends gathered at St. Patrick's Basilica here in Montreal to remember our angel Patrick. I wish to thank Fr. Jesse Dimafilis for the Mass and for this very special time we all had together. Afterwards we went out for dinner and toasted once again our special grandson. Death leaves a heartache no one can heal... love leaves a memory no one can steal.   gws

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day


    May a little bit of heaven fall from out of the sky above and make today a special day for you and those you love. We love you Patrick!  grandpa & grandma

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunday at the Cabin

At the bottom of Chemin Maxime

'Runner and Muff
Snowdrift in front of door!

Muffy and view looking down Chemin Maxime


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Montreal Biosphère: The Ecoological House

This weekend Marie and I took the Metro out to Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Sainte-Hélène
 to visit the Biosphere Environment Museum. Many of you may remember the huge geodesic dome there as the former pavilion of the United States, designed by the American inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller and built for the 1967 World Fair (Expo 67). The building originally formed an enclosed structure of steel and acrylic cells, 76 metres (250 ft) in diameter and 62 metres (200 ft) high. To me it was always the one structure I identified with Expo 67 as a kid.

back in 1967!

Me in front of Dome, 2011

The Montreal Biosphère is now the only environment museum in North America. It promotes a number of green technologies: wind turbines, green roof systems, a geothermal system and solar panels. The last one was what brought us there on Saturday - to see the Ecoological House, an 800 square foot self-sufficient and ecological solar-powered house that
 is extremely energy efficient. It was designed by 40 engineering students from the Université du Québec à Montréal, the École Polytechnique – Université de Montréal, and McGill University for an international competition, the 2007 Solar Decathlon, in Washington, D.C. We were shown around by two of the Museum's efficient personnel who had a very good grasp on the technology of solar power and other green solutions we were interested in that we can apply in the designing and building of our own house.

Marie and Eric, Ecoological House

Electricity in this house is produced by thirty odd 205-W photovoltaic solar panels providing 8.2 kW. Solar technology has come a long way since 2007 and if they built this house today it would certainly take less panels to produce the same amount of electricity. At least that is what we hope, as the cost of thirty panels for any house would be astronomical! That particular house was powered by two systems: alternating current (AC) for general energy needs and direct current (DC) for the automation system and control panels. It also was equipped with two thermal solar panels on the roof, designed to heat air, water or coolant fluid, which then circulates in the radiant system through pipes and helps heat large surfaces such as floors. It used to be copper, but today the best type of piping is polyethylene tubing or PEX, as it doesn't become brittle over time and isn't affected by concrete. It is hidden under the finished floor and this heat produced is spread evenly throughout all the rooms, providing stable, ambient comfort. We have planned this type of hydronic radiant floor heating system for our house - kitchen and bathroom for sure! The advantage to this system is the thermal mass of the concrete evens out any temperature fluctuations and drafts that other heating systems produce, you can zone different rooms to reduce energy consumption, and it radiates stored heat back into the house at night. We took away alot of good information from our visit and encourage anyone in the area to check out the Ecoological House soon. It is only here until 2012.  gws

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Phil's 26th

Fer, Phil & Rocio

    Marie and I took Phil and Fernanda out last night to celebrate his 26th birthday. They chose Typhoon, a small and cozy lounge on Monkland that specializes in hamburgers and steaks. Fer´s sister Rocio was in town, visiting from Mexico City, and joined us, along with Christina, Lara and Chad. It was a great way to return to Montreal after our week in Gatineau and fun to be with the kids again for a few hours. The pictures tell the story...gws

The gang at Typhoon Lounge

Phil and Pop, Typhoon Lounge

Christina, Chad & Lara, Typhoon Lounge

Marie and Gary, Typhoon Lounge


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pre-Retirement Seminar

View of Gatineau from our hotel room

          Marie and I left Montreal Monday afternoon in a blowing snowstorm and headed west to Ottawa/Gatineau for the week. (We are attending a retirement course until Friday and then will be returning home to help celebrate Phil's 26th birthday.) The weather cleared as soon as we crossed the Lac de Les Deux Montagnes and half an hour later the sky was blue and nary a cloud on the horizon. Reports in from Sherbrooke and points east (read our property) were coming in fast and furious as the "storm of the century" hit our place and dumped... are you ready?...over 3 feet of snow Monday! Obviously we are both concerned about the weight of all that snow on our two sheds so we have decided to go back out there this coming Sunday and check things out. I should have some fantastic pictures to post if the snow hasn't melted by then. Forecast is for rain later this week but at our elevation on the mountain this usually means more white stuff! Meanwhile here in Gatineau we are enjoying the course. It is being held at of all places the old sprawling school in Hull where Marie attended classes in Grade 8 and 12! Naturally she was excited to show me around and point out how little things have changed in 40 years! For me this is the first time back in the Capital region since we moved to Montreal, over a year ago!

Marie and Icicle, Asitcou Centre, Gatineau, PQ

Marie in the halls of her old stomping grounds!

     The complex is now a Government of Canada training center for Federal Public Servants, called the Asticou Centre, and a 10 minute drive from our hotel. The course we are attending is designed for executives and spouses who will eventually retire and have to face certain inevitable challenges after a long career - the prospects of being able to adapt to change, aging, security, pensions, will and estate planning and the psychological aspects of retirement. For Marie it will be a much greater challenge, having been in the Public Service for almost 35 years. But with my help and alot of encouragement from me and family - which I always had - the transition should be a smooth one.We are staying at the local Holiday Inn for the week, an old 1970's throwback, but fairly clean and comfortable, exploring the local cuisine and enjoying the hot tub in the hotel afterwards. Friday we pick up Christina who will be staying in Montreal for a week and drive back to the city. More snow on the way but, hey, we can handle it - we're Canadians!   gws

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The British Empire on Stamps Part 1


    If you have studied history you know that the British Empire grew and expanded through companies that were given a Royal Charter to monopolize trade in various parts of the world to ensure a steady flow of taxes to the Crown. The sad fact is most local people were exploited to the core and converted into slavery or bonded labor, their political independence was lost and their economic freedom curtailed for the benefit the Crown. From the merchants of the wool industry that traded with Flanders in the medieval period, to the East India Company in the late 15th century, our own Hudson's Bay Company here in Canada, the British South Africa Company, the Imperial British East Africa Company and the South Sea Company in the 18th century, these companies were all an important source of government revenue.

     The East India Company was the most famous, with hundreds of ships trading in spices, tea, coffee, and cotton, operating in many parts of the world, from St Helena in the west to China in the east.



     They too have a history of exploitation and it is well-documented that the Company was evicting Indians off farms that provided subsistence crops and replacing them with cash crops, working the people to exhaustion in the camps, blocking trade, and flooding Bengal with ridiculous imports to kill India’s industries. Yet if you dig deeper you will see India had already lost its glory by the time British arrived, thanks to hundreds of years of Muslim rule. The British happened to trigger the revival which still continues and an independant and exciting India has risen from the ashes of that traumatic time to rediscover itself. If you are interested in reading more about it I think you should try The Honourable Company: History of the English East India Company by John Keay, a fascinating insight into this global corporation.

     One of the earliest stamps bearing the Merchant's Mark of the British East India Company, was the Scinde Dawk. Sir Bartle Frere of the East India Company improved upon the postal system of the state by introducing a cheap, uniform rate for postage in 1851 when he became the Chief Commissioner of Sind. This was the "Dawk", the first postage stamp in Asia and the forerunner of the adhesive stamps used throughout India and other areas controlled by the East India Company. Scinde Dawk stamps were also used in Karachi City and remaining Sind regions. The regular postal services and formal stamps were issued in 1854.

Scinde Dawk

   They were known as Scinde Dawks because they were issued in the Province of Sindh, now a part of Pakistan. “Scinde” was how the British spelled the province of Sindh and “Dawk” is the anglicized spelling of the Hindustani word “Dak” or Post.  

The post or dak runner, issued 1937, from my collection

At the outset, the mail or Dak runner was used by Kings and Military commanders for purposes of information and royal correspondence. Each dak runner was provided with a drummer and an escort of two torch bearers and two archers after nightfall as his journey was often dangerous. Some of these runners used carriages, carts and even inflatable animals skins in rivers to convey important information. Although into the middle 1800's the dak runner continued to be predominantly used for carrying official mail, mail carriers came to be used by merchants for business and trading. Ordinary people had little use for such a service (relatives usually carried urgent messages) and the costs of using a regular mail service were too high for the average citizen. Finally though, because of the repeated instances of private mail being carried by bribed official mail carriers, the government decided to extend mail service to private citizens. The runners were eventually replaced with an more efficient system of horses and camels. The mail was carried quickly and efficiently, connecting government offices and post offices from Karachi through Kotri and Hyderabad up to Shikkur in the north:

Dak Camel, issued 1937, from my collection

For more information about the history of postal communications in India together with an overview of the postal history of India's Princely States you should check out the excellent and well researched blog of Sangeeta Deogawanka www.postalhistoryofindia.blogspot.com. If, like me, you are a stamp collector of the the India and the Princely States of the British Empire period to 1947 when India became a self-governing Dominion, Sangeeta's insightful research makes this fascinating period a little more understandable!  gws 


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Multiculturalism in Canada

Canadian Citizenship, issued 1947, from my collection

    After the publication of my last blog entry (about King George VI) I began thinking about the momentous changes that have taken place in my lifetime within the British Empire. You would be correct in reminding me that the sun was already beginning to set on this vast realm in 1950 and new flags of independance were being flown where the Union Jack used to be unfurled, the world not yet in the turmoil it finds itself in today. This new global community, brought about by modern telecommunications where all nations strive to be economically, socially, and politically interdependent of one another has only resulted in increased climate change, terrorism, endless conflicts and poverty. It is difficult not to have an opinion on what is happening in the Middle East and Africa with the images in the media and I have been biting my tongue for the past few years now so I wouldn`t offend, but I am fed up to here with the killing and hatred I see everyday in the rest of the old British Empire and fear especially for Canada and it's rapidly changing demographics. I´m not blind - I`ve been to Vancouver, Toronto and lived in Ottawa for ten years and what I have seen is scary. Certain communities from the Middle East live totally apart from and do not want anything to do with our culture or the values of mainstream Canadian life. They stress the superiority of their own religion and faith and see no particular separation between church and state - they look upon us as either infidel or crusader. Multiculturalism may create diverse societies, but also closed shops with no respect for people of other faiths and religions. Here in Montreal it seems everyone sort of gets along - could it be the wish to preserve the French language and maintain Quebec's distinct society that is still so strong? In La Belle Province, unlike the rest of the country, newcomers are expected to fit in and, those who try to change it so it is more like their homelands, are not welcome. Only through assimilation and integration will these people find peace. Our future depends on the commitments of all Canadian citizens to a unified Canadian identity.  gws