Category Archives: Geography

More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

Refugee Blues was published by writer and poet W.H. Auden in 1939, at the start of World War II.

It’s safe to say not much has changed and, perhaps, it never will if war and hatred continue to be our modus operandi. The million dollar question is this: Are we doomed as humans to this destructive cycle of scapegoatism and righteous indignation? Or is there truly a possibility – a probability – for something else?

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Continue reading More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

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What I See When I See Smiths Falls – Part 2

This is the second in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns in Eastern Ontario.

You can find the first installment here.

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Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids

I love living in a place with distinct seasons. What I particularly love is that just when I start to really, really enjoy something – swimming in the river, gardening, snowshoeing, falling leaves – it’s gone. Skating on the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids is like that. And its fleeting and unpredictable nature makes me appreciate it that much more.

Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt's Rapids
A panoramic of Burritt’s Rapids and its natural skating rink on the Rideau Canal

Continue reading Skating the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids

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What I See When I See Smiths Falls

This is the first in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns.


I’m from Vancouver, and while there are great things about the westcoast, I have called rural Ottawa home for the past 20 years.

The single best thing I love about living in the east is the riches of small towns and villages, roads that lead everywhere, chalk-full of opportunities to stop, talk to people, poke around and discover. Smiths Falls, just 20 minutes from where we live, has been my second home since the birth of our first child, when my in-laws sold up in Sudbury and moved to be close to us. Continue reading What I See When I See Smiths Falls

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Walking the White Rock Pier

It’s curious how one can routinely walk the same path for so long, then alter a single element and watch the common unfold in an uncommon way.

This night (and day) I put aside my camera bag – a constant – and tucked my iPhone in my vest pocket. Without the weight, my body felt lighter and my step quicker. I was free to simply look, feel and shoot instead of forever adjusting, adjusting.

The place I’ve known since childhood transformed into dots and streaks and lines and colours, shadows and refracted light. Graininess replaced the sharp, movement the ever-steady, drifting into the abstract unknown. Continue reading Walking the White Rock Pier

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 3

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2


Not Set in Stone: Memorials for the Future

The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute collaborated on Memorials for the Future, an international ideas competition that took place between March and September 2016. The goal of the competition was not to directly produce new monuments, but to reimagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials. 

It called for designers, artists and social scientists to develop new ways to commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, reflect the country’s diversity in history, heritage and culture, and that enrich Washington’s landscape while responding to the limitations of traditional commemoration. 

The jury chose four finalist teams –  Climate ChronographAmerican WildThe IM(MIGRANT) and VOICEOVER – who offered distinct concepts and approaches.

Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 3

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1


Having finally seen Washington, DC for myself this summer, it was great to connect with this presentation by Marcel Acosta, Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the Federal Planning Agency for America’s Capital. In it he discusses how the city came to be shaped, and how it will continue to be shaped in the future.

Acosta and Beth White, NCPC Commissioner, were guests of the National Capital Commission (NCC) in Ottawa, presenting in September as part of the NCC’s Capital Urbanism Lab public lecture series. Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

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Would You Let This Man Sell Your House?

would you let this man sell your house

I’m guessing that someone somewhere at sometime told this fellow that he looks like Owen Wilson’s male model in Zoolander. It’s the only reasonable reason I can imagine he would slap his ‘Blue Steel’ face on gigantic posters around White Rock, B.C., to push his unique brand of real estate sales in Greater Vancouver’s steaming housing market.

In a market where the product is selling itself, regardless of price, condition, and, arguably, the agent at hand, this approach may not seem foolish or cheesy at all. Maybe it’s the new normal. Maybe I don’t know anything.

If I’m feeling charitable, this is brilliant satire and clever public art rather than one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And the more I think about it, the more likely I am to ring him up and have him send me the entire set of posters. Autographed.

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The Pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a noted urbanist, writer and activist whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities has become the go-to tome for community planning and urban development.

Like the Camino de Santiago, there are prescribed stops on the pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs, including her two former residences in Toronto and New York City.

Since I explored her ‘hood in New York’s Greenwich Village last year, I needed to visit her former home in Toronto’s Annex to complete my journey and close the circle. With family waiting in the van, this would be the world’s fastest micro-exploration, leaving plenty for later (solo) visits to the neighbourhood. Continue reading The Pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs

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Fogo Island: Strange and Familiar

I don’t have a travel bucket list so much as I have a magnetic triangulation: Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, the Canadian Arctic in general, and the province of Newfoundland. I am drawn to each for their natural and human histories, their isolation, and unique beauty. Mother Nature still rules these places, although the hand of man has tried hard to make it seem otherwise.

Not long after Newfoundland began to impress itself upon me through its stories – a chain reaction of one interconnection after another – the epic tale of Fogo Island and Zita Cobb emerged. Continue reading Fogo Island: Strange and Familiar

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