Category Archives: History

Thursday Special: Vodou

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This was an exhibition that was new to me at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The warning that part of the exhibition might cause discomfort or surprise spurred my curiosity to take a look. As it turned out, it was a thought-provoking and educational display on the origin, history and the practice of Vodou.

Vodou came to the New World from West Africa and took root in Haiti blending with local religious beliefs. The first group of exhibits were artifacts inspired by Vodou. On display was a Vodou shrine in the size of a small closet where Vodou could be practiced at home.

A wall was dedicated to the time-line of Vodou in Haiti, where colonizers who were Catholics denounced Vodou as superstition and considered it to be evil and barbaric. This drove Vodouists into clandestine practice and they formed their secret societies.

A central belief in Vodou is the interconnection of the spiritual world after death and the world we live in. This is achieved through Lwa, which are special spirits also manifesting the presence of the Great Met (the Vodou god). Lwa can appear in many shapes and forms. This one is an example:

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Vodouists communicates more easily with Lwa and when they do, they enter into a state commonly known as “possession”. The vodouists do not suffer and they return to their own selves afterwards.

On display were drums and artifacts used in special ceremonies and a video played the dancing, chanting and trance-like condition of vodouists to the rhythm of drums.

The exhibits looked more menacing towards the end of the exhibition, as they represented the darkness of persecution by the colonists and the struggle by vodouists for freedom and independence . Vodou also became synonymous with the fight against slavery at the time.

Haiti became independent in 1804 and Vodou was officially recognized in Haiti in 2003.

One of the goals of the exhibition was to dispel the notion that Vodou was associated with curses and the popular image of a Vodou doll that people poke with needles. In this exhibition, I saw a lot of parallel between Vodou and many other indigenous folk beliefs all over the world. Believers were persecuted in the name of religion by colonizers or invaders in human history. It is unfortunate that political domination is linked hand in hand with the attempt to eradicate the collective meanings of a culture that has become the subordinate. Would it not be a better world if we were more tolerant of differences?

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For more Thursday Specials this week, please visit Paul’s blog Lost in Translation.jupiter-widget_text

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Walking in the Footsteps of Laura Secord: A Bicentennial Hike

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I usually think of chocolates when I think of Laura Secord. However, the Laura Secord hike organized by the Niagara Club of the Bruce Trail takes us back into Canadian history. The British and the Americans were fighting in the War of 1812. Laura Secord, neé Ingorsoll, was born in Massachusetts, U.S.A.  She moved with her Loyalist family (Americans who supported the British during the American Revolutionary War) to Upper Canada (now Ontario). She married James Secord and lived in the small village of Queenston in the Niagara Region.

One day in June 1913, Laura Secord overheard some American soldiers who came to her house talking about the plan of a surprise attack on the British soldiers in Beaver Dams. She set foot on a 32 Km (20 miles) journey, arriving at De Cew House on June 22, 1813 to warn Lieutenant Fitzgibbon about the American ploy.  Two days later, the British defeated the American at the Battle of Beaver Dams.

To commemorate Laura Secord’s walk, the Niagara Club of the Bruce Trail Conservancy organizes a Laura Secord hike every year. This year is the Bicentennial Hike.

My husband and I arrived at the meeting place–car park of the Niagara Region office–at 5:45 a.m. to board a bus which took us to Laura Secord’s Homestead in Queenston to start the hike. The town was asleep, but the sun was up, and the town was adorned with flags to mark the bicentennial occasion. Around the corner of the Homestead, General Brock Column came into view. We began our climb up the stairs beside the printing museum. It was a couple of kilometres of hills to reach the Queenston Park, where there was also monument to remember Laura Secord.

The Bruce Trail Main Trail began here. Our journey was to follow the white blazers of the Main Trail until we get to De Cew House in St. Catharines.

There were so much to see on this hike. The terrains were variable, hence providing interesting challenges. The part I liked the least were the muddy downhills. Otherwise, I enjoyed the occasional leap over a water puddle or a stream, and an incline when my hiking stick became an asset. We came to a hill where everybody had to climb down carefully, due to the muddy slipperiness. It was a relief to overcome this steep slope!

We continued by climbing over a stile to enter a private property, came out to walk on city roads, and walked over a bridge which crossed the highway. We hiked on narrow country paths, past a swamp,  on the edge of people’s backyard and through the vineyards of Niagara.

We looked out for historical features along our route. Besides Laura Secord’s homestead, 1-IMG_1413 General Brock Column and the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in Queenston, we walked through the Screaming Tunnel, which according to legend, a young girl died here and if you strike a match inside the tunnel, you’ll hear her screaming. The tunnel was dark and wet. There was such a eerie feel to it that we just hurried on.  For a few kilometres, we were walking along the banks of the Welland Canal. Only Canal #3 was in operation and to my delight, I came across a lift bridge, which had played a very important role in the industrial development of southern Ontario.

Our last lag was to hike around the campus of Brock University. When finally we saw the grounds of De Cew House of which only the relics of the foundation remained, we picked up our pace to cross the river, and were received by Laura Secord and her friend.

It was a long hike and it took us over six hours to complete the 32 Kilometres. The Niagara Bruce Trail Club provided the hikers with a wholesome lunch at De Cew House, and very hospitable reception on all the four check points. The greatest reward at the end of the day was the badge of the Laura Secord Bicentennial Hike to sew on my backpack.

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Vierdaagse: A Four-Day Evening Walk, Dutch Style

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The location was Dundas Valley Conservation Park in Dundas, Ontario. The time was the second week of June 2013. This was my first Vierdaagse (meaning a four-day event in Dutch), which was into its 23rd year organized by the Dutch community in our region. It has been a tradition in Holland to have a four-day walking challenge in mid-July every year in Nijmegen. It started in 1908 with a goal to promote sports and exercises. Depending on age groups, people walk 30, 40 or 50 Km each day over four  consecutive days. The Canadian 4-day evening walk event is more a symbolic version with a choice of a long (10 Km) and a short (5 Km) walk every day. Participants came out on four evenings to do the walk.

There was a sea of orange (the Dutch national colour) at the start line. When the bugle (allegedly the horn from a Dutch canal boat) sounded, walkers headed out on their respective routes. I walked the long distance on Day 1 and Day 3, and the short distance on Day 2 and 4. The longer route took us into the forest of Dundas Valley, which was shaded. The route was marked by orange ribbons tied on the branches of the trees. The short route was along the Rail Trail, from the Trail Centre to Sanctuary Park and return, and it was flat and straight. The weather was not the most co-operative, especially on the first day, but it did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the people who had come out, many bringing children with them.

There were sightings of deer every evening, but I was only lucky enough to capture one of them on my iPhone on the last evening. Due to the rain, the fungi were rampant on the trail and many people stopped to take a picture of this big one growing on a tree trunk.

Back in the centre, there was a stall selling Dutch treats, such as pooffertjes–tiny pancakes brushed with butter and sprinkled with icing sugar– and croquettes. I tasted the pooffertjes for the first time. Yes, there was a “poof” sensation when I put it in my mouth!

At the end of the fourth evening, I was awarded my badge and a souvenir. Printed on it was “1” signifying that it was my first walk. Looking around, there were people who have done over ten years and one person with “19” on his badge. I’ll try to be back next year!

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A Word A Week Photo Challenge: INDUSTRIAL

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The Burlington Canal Lift Bridge is the icon of the Industrial Revolution that took place in Canada in the 19th century. I have therefore chosen it to represent the theme Industrial for this week’s A Word A Week Photo Challenge in response to Skinnywench (aka Sue).

Built in 1826 with the opening of the Burlington Canal, which links the waters of Hamilton Harbour (also known as Burlington Bay) to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, the lift bridge is a tower-driven, moveable and vertically lifted bridge. It raises on demand to big vessels year round and hourly or half-hourly to smaller boats or pleasure vessels in the summer.

According to government statistics, the bridge is 116 metres long, weighs 1996 tonnes and lifts 33.5 metres high as in the photo above. Seen from the picture, the height is similar to the Skyway Bridge (36 metres high) behind it. The Lift Bridge provides two-lane traffic for vehicles and a side-walk for pedestrians and cyclist. Personally, I walk across the Lift Bridge regularly in the summer, because it is on my training route along the Burlington Waterfront Trail and Hamilton Beach Trail. The Lift Bridge is also part of the route of the Around the Bay Road Race, which has been taking place at the end of March since 1894, three years earlier than the Boston’s inaugural race. On race day, the Lift Bridge is closed entirely to traffic. I love bridges and I have taken part in the race of the reason that I want to walk on the steel surface of the bridge thinking that I have history under my feet.

The photos below were taken on a cloudier day. The vessel is typical of those that requires the lift bridge to raise. When this happens, a horn will sound, and the traffic has to stop. Pedestrians and cyclists also wait behind the gate. The entire operation takes about four to five minutes.

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One may question the efficiency and the utility of this lift bridge now that there is the Skyway Bridge providing through road traffic across the Burlington Canal. I think the Lift Bridge remains more for its historical significance than for its functionality. The City of Hamilton has thrived as an industrial city (Canada’s Steel Town) during the Industrial Revolution and the waterway is an important link between North American and Europe in international trade and commerce. One can imagine how differently the steam ocean vessels would look crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming to dock in Hamilton 180 years ago. An average journey in those days took six to twelve days. Raw material aside, they also brought immigrants who helped shaped the landscape of Canada. The Lift Bridge has witnessed the growth and decline of the steel industry in this part of the world. It deservedly stands for “Industrial”.

Related Article:   <http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ontario/burlington-eng.html>