Contributed by Alan Tibbetts
Well, the first day of the Canada 2010 trip is complete, and everyone is still talking to each other. It has been a wonderful day for all of us. As I said in the first e-mail yesterday, about half the group arrived a day early; the other half were all settled in at the Holiday Inn by Wednesday night. While we were waiting for them, we discovered that the courtyard of the hotel, which is just outside the patio doors of our rooms, is a very good place to sit in the cool night air and have a drink and a chat.
Today's itinerary was a full one. We first visited the Stoney Creek Battlefield, where in 1813, the British army defeated the invading Americans, using a night attack, and saved Canada for the British Empire. The original farmhouse in the middle of the battlefield gave a good insight into life 200 years ago in the colony. Our guides were very tactful in not insulting our American brethren and wives, in best Canadian fashion.
Next stop was Dundurn Castle (actually a big house) from 1835 in Hamilton, which was the home of Sir Allan Napier Macnab, a Premier of this province and the last Provincial Grand Master of the UGLE in Canada, who was in place when the new Grand Lodge of Canada broke away from England and declared independence in 1855. To his credit, Macnab was able to effect reconciliation between UGLE and the breakaway lodges three years later, when all remaining English lodges joined the new group. The house is an immense Italianate building, the grandest in Upper Canada in its time, overlooking Lake Ontario, and served to bankrupt its owner by the time of his death. It was furnished in period style and costumed guides took us through it and explained all very well.
Lunch was a terrific buffet at the Scottish Rite building in downtown Hamilton. The one part of the building is a red sandstone mansion from the 1890's with an immense addition from 1923 to house the Scottish Rite ceremonies, with seating for several hundred, and 50 antique painted cloth backdrops for use in the degrees.
We then went on to Brantford and the Six Nations Indian Reserve, where a local native guide got on the coach to give us a running commentary of the history of her people. It was interesting to hear that in their culture, the women are the leaders, and still run the affairs of the community. We had an opportunity to stop at a local craft shop to pick up some locally made items, and at their tourist centre to see some displays of historical life of the Indian people.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a lovely beach restaurant for our evening meal. We are all very tired, but looking forward to tomorrow's program, which I shall report on next time.
Friday, May 28. Today was an opportunity for our guests to be immersed in Canadian culture. After a ninety minute coach drive north, we arrived in St. Jacobs, the heart of the Old Order Mennonite community in rural Ontario. These people are of German extraction, and came to this country in the 20th century to escape persecution for their religion and way of life in Europe. Mennonites are a branch of Christians who practice adult baptism, and a very austere pacifist personal life.
Our guide, Del from the information centre, rode with us through the rolling, fertile countryside, giving us a running commentary of what we were seeing. Many of these prosperous farms of 100 acre average size do not use electricity at all and do not use modern machinery. The people are transported in black buggies, pulled by retired race horses; they plow their fields with work horse power and dress very plainly in black pants, blue shirts and black straw hats for the men, and long dark coloured floor length dresses and bonnets for the women. Water is drawn from wells using windmills, and lighting in the home is kerosene. The ones who use machinery, use small tractors of less than 100 hp only. Many sell produce, maple syrup or crafts at the road side, but the money is collected by the purchaser putting the funds in a can with a slotted top, as no sales person may be present.
We managed to see several types of horse and buggies plying the back roads…single family ones with two seats and an enclosed top, goods buggies, open people movers and some odd homemade types. We saw a man in traditional dress roller-blading down the road! We were also fortunate to watch the school children on their lunch break playing baseball in a playground, the girls dressed in their long skirts and even the teacher, all in black, acting as pitcher. The boys, of course, play their game in a diamond on the other side of the school building. They even enter the school through separate doors; similarly, they sit in church on separate sides of the building.
We then took an unscheduled side trip to "The Kissing Bridge", the last wooden covered bridge in Ontario, spanning the Grand River. It was in a lovely setting of grassy banks with wild flowers everywhere. We also had the opportunity to shop at the small Mennonite general store by the bridge, with its shelves of 50 pound sacks of flour and sugar and bulk bags of oats and other necessities of the modern Mennonite family. Of course there were a few souvenir items we could look at and purchase.
We had our lunch in a wonderful buffet restaurant in town called the Stone Crock, after which we visited the many small shops along the one street of St. Jacobs. Quilts are a specialty here, as well as candles, soap and there are even corn brooms being manufactured along the street. The sun was bright and hot, contributing to the festive mood of our guests.
After we had had some time to refresh and dress, we proceeded to our visit to St. Andrews Lodge No. 661 in St. Catherines. We were 25 Freemasons, including our guide Damon, and 20 ladies attending. The Lodge meeting was a typical regular meeting with all the usual business, plus we observed a ballot being taken and a petition read out. We each introduced ourselves and stated where we come from, which gave the Canadian brethren a chance to see how wide spread we are as a lodge. I also gave them a brief history of Internet Lodge and explained to them how we came to visit them. We were lucky to find this Lodge, as few Canadian Lodges meet in the fourth week of the month. I also presented them with a wall plaque marking the occasion of our visit, and we were each given a home-made ceramic disk with their lodge crest on it. We proceeded to the festive board, which here is an informal meal. Our ladies, the LILies had been waiting patiently for us in sweltering heat upstairs, and unfortunately the home ladies had not really been ready to entertain twenty guests so our wives were happy to see us. Our John Dutchman-Smith was called upon to deliver the response to the toast to the visitors, which he did in fine style, humourously noting the Canadian propensity to use the words "Worshipful Sir" at every opportunity (it is in the Book) and doing us proud with his eloquence. He also managed to snag several new candidates for us over the meal time. The short ride home in the coach gave everyone an opportunity to sing a few popular songs, as it always seems to do once the lights are out. Thus ended another fine day of our tour in Canada.
On a day dedicated to Canadian culture, how could I forget the summit of CanCult, the visit to Tim Horton's? This is our national chain of coffee and donut shops, named after a famous ice hockey player, and as Jane says in her trivia test for the bus riders, the place where every Canadian goes from 10 to 11 am, causing the country to stop all business and industry and leaving us unprotected from foreign invasion for an hour every day. So it was necessary to have our guests experience this cultural ritual, as we stopped at the St. Jacobs Tim Hortons (no town is too small to have one) at the proper time and bought 33 cups and a box of 40 assorted Timbits (donut holes), which we proceeded to consume in the brilliant sunshine out front of the store. You don't get more Canadian than this!
Saturday May 29. We were able to have a bit of a lie-in today, departing at 9:15 after our usual buffet breakfast at the hotel. Today is vineyard tour day. Many people don't know about Ontario wines, but they are quite decent, and they mostly come from this very area. The land between the Niagara Escarpment, a substantial cliff to the south running the length of the peninsula, and Lake Ontario to the north, forms a micro-climate zone perfect for grape production. You may never have had Ontario wine, because most countries protect their industry by keeping others out, so they are mostly only available here in Canada, but they are good.
We first went to Chateau des Charmes Estate Winery just to our east in Niagara on the Lake township. It was established in 1976 by a refugee from Algeria, and the facility is built in the grand French style. Our official group photo was taken in front, with our guide Damon handling a multitude of cameras for us. Wines in this region are named for the grape variety like in the USA, rather than by growing region as in France or Germany. They cultivate 14 varieties of grape in this vineyard, and do their own research for developing new varieties. It is a lovely sight to see all the neat rows of vines alongside the neat rows of fruit trees all over this area.
We were taken out to the fields and given loads of information, then we went through the production process inside. Crushing and cleaning machines and giant steel fermenting and holding tanks, a barrel store for aging the more expensive varieties, and finally the bottling and labeling area were toured. Lastly, we went outside and had our tasting under a huge marquee tent, where we sampled four types of wine. They featured their Ice Wine, made from completely frozen grapes, harvested at night, which is the feature wine around here, and very expensive. The sun was beating down hot by this time, so after a look round in the sales area, we were happy to board our air conditioned coach and we proceeded to the Strewn Winery, also in Niagara on the Lake.
This winery is in a former fruit cannery, and not so grand as the first one. We again had the basic tour and sampled several more (small) glasses. This winery also has a terrific restaurant, so this is where we had lunch. It was a real gourmet treat, probably because they also have a cooking school associated with the firm.
The afternoon programme was the delights of Niagara Falls, a real tourist mecca, with all that goes with it. Garish is too mild a word to describe the Clifton Hill tourist area where we were unleashed. But first, we all went for a ride on the famous "Maid of the Mist" boat, which takes a trip to the base of the magnificent Horseshoe Falls, where everyone can get soaked, despite the bright blue poncho provided. The Canadian, as well as the American Falls are a unique sight and everyone was thrilled to get so close. After the boat trip, some went on the coach to a shopping mall, others wandered around the tourist strip.
Our final activity together was a visit to the "O Canada, Eh?" dinner and show. This was chosen to highlight another aspect of Canadian culture to our visitors. Held in a huge log cabin with family-style table arrangements, the attraction is the stage show performed by the staff of the restaurant between serving our courses. The show is a bit of the old music hall variety type, using Canadian written songs, some made up just for the show (singing the menu, for instance) with lots of lumberjacks, a voyageur, a dance hall girl and of course a Mountie singing and doing slapstick comedy. We were required to salute with the ubiquitous "EH?" at top volume to their frequent prompt. It was a lot of fun and the food was good too!
The bus ride at the end of the evening back to the hotel was a time for words of thanks and expressions of sadness at having to leave, and it was obvious that all had enjoyed the three days together. Jane received a lovely gift from the ladies for her extra efforts at keeping us entertained on the bus with her fact sheets and quizzes. Of course the treats as reward for completing the pages made everyone happy too. Our driver, Nicholas, who got us into and out of some tight places, and our guide Damon who did a terrific job keeping us together and entertained certainly deserved our thanks. We hope we will see Damon again in the future, as he will soon be a member of IL. As the drive back was short, we only had a few songs and we didn't have time to get too sentimental. The usual gathering in the courtyard was a last chance to chat, though most will see one another again at breakfast, before we all set off to our next destination, or to home.
It was a fabulous time together, and I highly recommend it to all members to take part in these social activities which are a fine part of our Internet Lodge experience. I hope you have all enjoyed my narratives, giving you a taste of what we did here in Canada. My sincere thanks to all who attended, and to Jane for all her invaluable help. See you in August in Chester!
Contributed by Rich van Doren
IMPRESSIONS OF CANADA
INTERNET LODGE TRIP 2010
It is often the impression of folks of the United States to think that they are still home when, in reality, they have crossed into another country by visiting Canada. Perhaps it is the same for our Canadian cousins to the north when they visit us. Such was my bemused state after clearing customs and heading for the hotel where Internet Lodge members and their wives were gathering.
I was jolted out of that mistaken reverie by the NavSat in the car announcing that I was to turn onto QEW Street. QEW? What a strange name for a street. Then, it hit me. Ah, Queen Elizabeth Way - right. I am now in Canada!!
Walking into the hotel and registering, I was soon meeting Alan Tibbetts - our Worshipful Master. "How are you? - eh?" Yup! I'm in Canada. And what a wonderful sight. Soon Nancy and I were saying hello to the brothers and sisters we had last seen in Manchester. Hugs and smiles and "hellos". It seemed as though we had never been apart. It was so natural a feeling to just pick up where we had last left off. Dinner and then a gathering in the restaurant area for announcements and getting clear about what we were to see on the trip. It all was relaxed, informal - and comfortable. Yes, that's the word I was looking for - comfortable.
After the meeting, we continued with an informal gathering on the inside patio where chairs were gathered and we got a chance to talk some more. Finally, it was time to get some rest before the next day.
We met for breakfast - not the full English breakfast, but a "three squares a day" meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, toast, coffee and orange juice. Then it was on to the bus [well, OK - a "coach"]. We met our driver, Nicholas, who was retired from Air Canada, where he had been an operations exec. He now did this part-time… though you would never know it by the way he wheeled us through tight spots and avoided the occasional "nutty" driver.
We also met our tour director - Damon Allan - a wonderful young man and a currently seated Worshipful Master of his lodge in Hamilton, Ontario. He worked tirelessly for us all during the trip - constantly checking to see that we were being treated with the utmost care and service. Frankly, he spoiled us.
We were off to see the sights - first stop was at the Stony Creek battlefield. Now this battle occurred during the War of 1812…not one of the best moments in US history, but it did settle the issue of independence from England once and for all. It also settled the question of Canada remaining part of the Commonwealth once and for all. Stony Creek, apparently, was the battle that proved the point. Our Canadian hosts were careful not to "rub it in" when talking about this embarrassing [for the US] chapter in the war. But the summation was that 700 British troops defeated 3000 Americans in a daring night-time raid. But then, that is so typical of Canadians - polite, respectful and gentle in their relationships. It is like when I grew up in Minnesota... and I really miss those days of innocence and civility.
We next saw Dundurn Castle - the quite amazing home of Canada's first prime minister, Sir Allan McNab. He obviously had a great deal of money and didn't mind spending it on his home. It reminded me of the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island which were built by the captains of American industry back in the 19th century.
We stopped for lunch at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Now this was familiar territory to me, being a long-time member of the Scottish Rite [Ancient and Accepted] in the US. But I could tell that it was a little different for our UK brethren who were not quite as used to seeing a large, beautiful building and auditorium used for such a purpose. The food was excellent… and a "spread" that was far too much for our group to begin to do justice in its consumption. But… we tried!
That afternoon, we made a trip to a nearby Indian reservation. The Six Nations Reserve - and did some shopping in their modern "trading post" that had everything from art work to animal pelts for sale. It was interesting to learn the tribal history and how their tribal government was structured. Typical of Native American tribes, it was the women of the tribe that govern and run the affairs, political and economic. [Actually, that sounds very familiar, somehow, now that I think about it.]
We completed the day with a beach side restaurant and - again - excellent food. We walked along the edge of the great lake after dinner and watched the sun set. Then it was back to the hotel where thoughts of gathering again on the inside patio succumbed to the fatigue of a long but satisfying day. In short - we crashed for sleep.
After the breakfast was completed; we were again onto the bus and away for the day's activities. This day was given over to a tour of St. Jacob's - a Mennonite community of German [by way of Pennsylvania] settlers who have some interesting religious and community beliefs that they practice in spite of the influence of modern technologies. In a word, they are living lives that are simple and rural and much more in keeping with the 19th century than in today's fast paced world. Nevertheless, they are excellent business men and women, and quite successful. Nancy and I had spent a year with similar communities in rural Pennsylvania, and we both admired them and respected their dedication to their principles. We enjoyed our tour. We also had another excellent lunch and a chance to do some significant shopping in the local artists' community that has sprung up in town. Fantastic crafts and beautiful handiwork was in every nook and corner of the town. The credit card will be catching up with us soon. Sigh….
That evening we went to the local lodge which seemed to be more on the Scottish side of traditions. At least, that was my perception, but it was wonderful to sit in lodge again with my Internet Lodge brethren and we had a great time socializing with the local hosts and their ladies.
Off to the local wineries…what a way to start the day! The Chateau Des Charmes was like something out of the South of France. We were treated to an interesting tour of the impressive "chateau" facility and an education in wine production ala Ontario. I learned that, for all kinds of political and economic reasons, we do not get Canadian wines in the US. Too bad… I would like to try some. Those of this winery were exceptionally dry to my taste, but color and bouquet was superb. The next winery, Strewn, was sweeter and a good Riesling was the first offering. Having lived in Riesling territory of Germany in the late 60's - early 70's, I was impressed by this wine. It held its own in comparison to its European ancestors. Lunch was an epicurean delight.
Following lunch, it was off to see the famous Niagara Falls. I had been there before, but never on the Canadian side of the river. It was much nicer than the American side, which - last I looked - was much seedier in appearance. The Maid of the Mist ride was everything one would hope for - and quite a thrill to be near the sound and fury of the Falls. I loved it!! Back on land - well, it was like Coney Island on steroids. "Kitch" doesn't quite capture the assortment of carnival-like shops and activities that await the traveler. Blocks of them.
To round out the day - and the trip - we went to the dinner theater experience "Oh Canada - Eh?!" The food was good and the atmosphere a rousing burlesque of the 1930's 40's and 50's vintage of family fun. We laughed and sang and responded with "EH!" whenever prompted. It was a delightful way to end this amazing trip. A real slice of Canadian culture and history - from the beginnings to the land we see today. I, for one, thought it was wonderful. Following the day, a little more "patio time" for a one last moment of being together before we retired to bed.
Driving back home, for nine hours, gives one time to reflect on what had just been experienced. Though being in Canada is always an enjoyable thing for us, and this time was quite educational as well, there was something different about this trip.
Nancy was the one to articulate it. "They're like family", she said. And so it is. This wonderful lodge is like no other I have ever experienced. We are a family. And so mote it ever be.
Thank you, Worshipful Master - and thank you, Canada… for once again putting it all in clear perspective. We look forward to being with you all again….
Rich Van Doren