First Nations Art of the Pacific Northwest

During a trip to Vancouver last December with my two sons, we visited the Vancouver Art Gallery’s outstanding exhibition “Shore, Forest and Beyond: Art from the Audain Collection”.  What a spectacular display of traditional and contemporary artworks related to British Columbia!  The Vancouver Art Gallery and Douglas & McIntyre Publishers (more on them in a later post) collaborated on a book, Shore, Forest and Beyond, showcasing the exhibition that is well worth obtaining.  On that visit, I also brought back a copy of Gary Wyatt’s beautiful book, Mythic Beings: Spirit Art of the Northwest Coast (also published by Douglas & McIntyre).  While there’s much that can be said about the show and several of the commercial art galleries in that region that focus on such artists, for now it prompts me to share some contemporary art with traditional motifs from the first nations tribes of the Pacific Northwest and a few of the galleries where such works can be found.

Selected Art Galleries:

Ahtsik Native Art Gallery, Port Alberni, BC

Spirit Wrestler Gallery, Vancouver, BC

The Path Gallery, Whistler, BC

Coastal Peoples Fine Arts, Vancouver, BC

Black Tusk Gallery, Whistler, BC

I-Hos Gallery, Courtenay, BC

Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, Vancouver, BC

Spirit of the West Coast Art Gallery, Courtenay, BC

Vancouver Canucks Not Canadian Enough?

 Canucks Fans (Photo Credit:

Interesting and very entertaining piece written by Jeff Klein in today’s New York Times about the ambivalent feeling shared by many Canadians — at least outside of British Columbia — regarding the Vancouver Canucks, which is the only Canadian team still in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup.  While Canadians would undoubtedly be proud to see a home team win the championship for the first time since 1983, the persistent regional / provincial rivalries and the roster of Vancouver team (being comprised of fewer actual Canadians than some U.S. teams),  leave many hockey fans uncertain.  Among the humorous observations noted in the article is this quote by Paul McDonagh of Dawson City, Yukon Territory:  “Of course, we’re supporting the Canucks.  It’s kind of a love-hate thing [many Canadians] have with Vancouver, like with Toronto.  Only with Toronto it’s mostly hate.”

Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, Other Canada Coastlines Top Rated by National Geographic

Thanks to a justifiably proud friend from Newfoundland for calling my attention to the latest issue (Nov.-Dec. 2010) of National Geographic Traveler magazine, which features a cover story rating 99 of the world’s best coastlines.  Coming in with the highest rating was that province’s magnificent Avalon Peninsula.  Having spent part of a wonderful family vacation there several years ago (about which I’ll write more in a later post), I can attest to that place’s beauty.   The article quotes Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, who sums up the Peninsula’s charms thus:  “Visiting the Avalon Peninsula, with its close-knit communities and strong local culture reflected in the music and arts, is like going back in time.  The unspoiled scenery ranges from stark moonscapes to crystal-clear lakes to open land where caribou roam.”

Of the 99 places rated, 18 made it into the highest category of “Top Rated,” and of those Canada claimed an impressive 4 spots, more than any other country.   Making that short list were the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, the south shore of Nova Scotia, and the coastal areas of Prince Edward Island.

(Not surprisingly, Canadian locations also received at least a few other mentions in the magazine’s most recent issue, including an interview about a trek down the monumental Mackenzie River and the Yukon River (p.24), a note on skating on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal (p.36), and an overview of new hotels in Toronto (p. 46).)

Link to feature and complete list on National Geographic Traveler

The Rakish Angles: “Dan and Misha’s Wedding”

A couple of months ago I stumbled onto the web site for Bearwood Music, a small music label in British Columbia.  While there are several artists recording with Bearwood that interest me, one of the standouts is the band The Rakish Angles, who are from Gibsons, British Columbia.  The amazing quartet performs a wonderful mixture of instrumental bluegrass and jazz, that has both traditional elements and some experimental aspects (for instance, a couple of their pieces meld bluegrass with flamenco — a combination I’ve not heard before).  Although they were justly among the nominees for “Instrumental Group of the Year” in 2009 at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, I sense that these solid musicians don’t yet get the exposure their considerable talents deserve.

The song “Dan and Misha’s Wedding”, from their debut CD “The Rakish Angles”, is particularly beautiful as both a hopeful piece and as a contemplative elegy containing musical threads that, at least to me, are readily connected to  Scottish and Irish traditional pieces.  Because of this, I’m sure that the graceful notes of the violin in this song would have been familiar to many early pioneers in Canada from the British Isles.  It’s also reminiscent of any number of instrumental folk tunes still common today in the mountain regions of the southern U.S., which was also populated early on by immigrants from the same region and which has its own rich bluegrass heritage.   The song, which I’ve had on one of my recent iTunes playlist and which I’ve listened to repeatedly this past week, can be listened to in full on the band’s MySpace page (link below) or sampled and purchased on iTunes.  Give them a fair listen and I’m sure you’ll find some other truly good things  by these worthy performers.

Link to The Rakish Angles on MySpace:

Link to The Rakish Angles on Bearwood Music site (and from which other Bearwood recoding artists can be accessed):

Ice Wine Taste Test

An article in last Friday’s NY Times ( on Canadian icewines caught my attention both because of the connection to Canada and because I had previously not heard of icewines.  I’ve sampled many wines over the years but am by no means an oenophile, so my being unaware of a notable wine variety is not that unusual.  It turns out that icewine has quite a following and the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and to a lesser extent those in southern Quebec and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, have played a major part in elevating the popularity of icewine on this continent and beyond.

The key factor that distinguishes icewine is that the grapes are left on the vine past normal harvest season and when the temperature is below -8 Celsius (about 17 Farenheit), usually in December or January, the grapes are carefully picked by hand.  At such low temperatures the water content in the grape stays frozen resulting in a significantly higher concentration of juice when the grapes are crushed compared with the process for making other wines.  The yield from each harvest is also correspondingly lower, which translates into the wine being more expensive to purchase.

With this background in mine, a few days later I ventured out to a local wine shop to purchase a bottle to sample.  Although judging by the websites for several leading icewine wineries, there is an extensive range produced, this far south in the U.S. the selection is quite limited and I was only able to track down a bottle after visits to three shops that normally have extensive wine offerings.  At the place I located this elusive wine, Ansley Wine Merchants, they actually stocked two types of Canadian ice wine, Inniskillin’s 2006 Vidal and Jackson-Triggs 2007 Proprietor’s Reserve Vidal.   I got both thinking I would compare the two.  (They also had an Austrian icewine on hand, but the priciness — US $55 for the 375 ml bottle of Inniskillin and US $21 for a 187 ml bottle of the Jackson-Triggs — restrained me.)

A few days later, after letting the wine chill, my wife and I tried each of these two curiosities.   Icewines are generally referred to as dessert wines and I was expecting them to be sweet in the manner of many flavored liqueurs.   Sampling the Inniskillin first, this partly turned out to be the case, but the sweetness was balanced by a brisk acidity, which apparently is characteristic of icewines, so the level of sweetness is not intense to the point of tartness.   The same was true of the Jackson-Triggs, although this particular vintage seemed even sweeter.  I’ve never been good at describing the flavors present in wines, but the makers of both attribute flavors of tangerine, papaya and apricot, which even I can discern.   My wife immediately pronounced the taste pleasantly complex.  Being more of a vodka drinker myself, I was glad to see that an icewine martini was among the serving recommendations and this suited my own tastes better than the straight icewine.

Sweet drinks are not normally to my liking, so I am unlikely to become an icewine connoisseur.  Yet, all in all my introduction to icewine proved to be an interesting diversion and another useful learning experience about an aspect of Canada previously unknown to me.

Here Comes the Winter Olympics

For the second time, Canada is set to host the Winter Olympics (the first being in Calgary in 1988).  Here in Atlanta, where I now live, we hosted the Summer Olympics in 1996 and I recall the city was abuzz about the preparations and anticipation of having the event come together and being the focal point for so much of the world’s sports attention.  I’ve no doubt that Vancouver — what an amazing place! — will acquit itself well and that the planners and the city itself will all breathe a collective sigh of exhilaration and relief and deserve a well-earned pat on the back as the games draw to a close in about two weeks time.  Good luck to the athletes — and godspeed Vancouver!

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