Kanatha-Aki – A Healing Place

My stallion Colos and me. Photo courtesy of Pierre Bessette.

A big brown eye cautiously regards me. I’m stroking his neck, but Colos is a rescue horse who has been mistreated, so he’s not sure about this human. After a few minutes, we make friends, but mounting this gentle giant offers a different challenge; I can’t reach the stirrup without a hand up. He stands patiently as I climb into the saddle in an undignified scramble.

We’re at Kanatha-Aki, in Val des Lacs, a beautiful part of Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. The words are Algonquin for “guardian of the boundless earth” and boundless is a good description of my experience. The peace of the setting – trees, water, mountains – surrounds and envelops us. As our little group arrives, two dozen sled dogs, slumbering by their wooden houses, lift their heads and follow us with their large blue eyes.

Inside a rustic cabin, animal pelts are hung on the walls, and native artifacts are everywhere. We tentatively shake hands with our host, Stéphane Denis.

Denis is a survivor of the native residential schools. This place is his answer to the pain of his past, bringing healing for himself, and for those who come here. “In order to be at peace, we have to forgive,” he says. “Only send out good energy.”

Our little group shares a cheese fondue – delicious, sustaining, and appropriate as this place is all about sharing.

Sophie Williams, who offers Amerindian massage here, tells us of Stéphane’s history. His healing strength seems to permeate this place. She describes groups who come here as individuals and leave as a team. She talks about the transformation of families who hardly ever hug one another, and leave as a unit. “Animals and nature purify our body and our spirit,” she explains.

Indeed, the horses are not the only rescued beasts here in more ways than one.

In the mountains above, a small herd of wood bison is so tame that when Léana, Stephane’s daughter calls loudly, they come lumbering out of the mist on the hilltop, to say hello. These are ancient beasts, Léana explains. “They survived the Ice Age and were crucial to the survival of early humans.”

While there are preservation efforts being made in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, this is the first and only wood bison reserve in Quebec, protecting a species currently threatened with extinction.

Colos and I have come together to visit the bison. When I dismount, he starts cropping the young grass. For him, this must be as delicious as my cheese fondue.

In winter, we might go dog sledding, or don snowshoes to explore the woodland. But this is spring. The new shoots are up, the trees are budding and spring flowers dot the landscape. I could have zoomed across the landscape on zip lines, a favourite activity for visitors to Kanatha-Aki. But I’m content with my more sedate method of locomotion. Two sled dogs accompany our horses, scampering ahead.

Our slow descent to the cabin provides breathtaking views of the pastoral landscape and deep breaths of fresh, clean air. As we approach the cabin, loud barks welcome us back. The other sled dogs have spotted our two canine guides and are saying hello. The horses are eager to return to the barn and break into a jog-trot.

He’s glad to be home but I say goodbye reluctantly to my equine buddy.

Before we leave, one more experience awaits. Stéphane takes me aside for a smudging ceremony. I stand still, my arms extended to the side, while the sweet scent of sage smoke is wafted around me. He uses a feather to anoint my head, my eyes, my mouth, my heart…all the while he is speaking quiet words. He speaks of healing, of letting anger go, of goodness, and as the words wash over me, I feel an upswell of emotion. It’s a remarkable, therapeutic sensation.

When we say goodbye, we forsake the cool handshake with which we began our meeting. Stéphane envelops me in a giant bearhug which goes on…and on. “It should be heart to heart,” he explains, “for 21 seconds.”

I remember Sophie earlier telling us about business colleagues developing meaningful relationships here, and about families learning to hug. It seems to me, we all need to visit Kanatha-aki. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all learned to hug, heart to heart, for 21 seconds?

Towers of Power -The Tower of London and Hampton Court

There’s probably no better lesson about the ability of power to corrupt than a visit to the Tower of London.

The most influential men and women of their time have lived – and died – within these walls. And in most cases, the power they held lasted very briefly. Continue reading

The People of Myanmar (Burma)

The relentless sun shimmering on gold temples, the inevitable dust and sand at the end of the dry season, the difficulty of coping in a language so foreign to me that even after a week, I can’t easily remember simple phrases – these are the impressions I have taken away from Myanmar. Continue reading

A Taste of the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

Ukrainians brought red fife wheat to Canada and with it they made one of their gastronomic gifts to the world – perogies (which they pronounce perohay). At the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton, Alberta, I learned to make these delicious little dumplings.

After all, food is the best way to learn about people. And a lesson in making perogies (also called pyrohy or varenyky ) is enlightening.

I made two of these little handmade dumplings in the same time my teacher could made a dozen! It’s still hard work and made me appreciate them all the more.

My perogie – before and after!

The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a living history museum, complete with costumed interpreters, offers a glimpse into the world of the first pioneers from this community who arrived in 1892.

They arrived in large groups and settled in east central Alberta from 1892-1930. For $10, the government gave them 10 acres of land which they were required to clear and on which they had to build living quarters.

The first homes were burdei , a sod dwelling rather like a dugout which featured a living roof.

Inside was the bed, an oven for baking and most importantly, a stone mill for grinding that wheat into flour. It’s a tough job as I discovered!

Later more permanent homes were built with a “Big Room” for family and entertaining. The walls are adorned with beautiful hand-woven cloth and photos of the saints, and the ceilings hung with dried flowers and herbs, often blessed by the church.

Their faith was important. At the Village, three churches represent the three main religious groups: Ukrainian Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox. Services are still occasionally held in this one – Ukrainian Orthodox.

The Hilliard Hotel was the first building to have indoor plumbing. Beer was 5 cents and a bed could be had for $1 per night. But card games weren’t permitted. The only entertainment was the found in the pool hall, which also sold alcohol.

A horse and buggy is a wonderful way to explore the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, though it’s a great place for enthusiastic walkers….there’s so much to see here.

But I believe the best way to explore a culture is through its food. And what’s better than a Ukrainian feast ?

On this small plate: pyrohy (perogies) with sour cream and fried onions, cucumber salad, Koubasa (sausage), and Holubtsi (cabbage rolls).


Airline Etiquette – 10 Rules for Passengers

1024px-british_airways_747-400_world_traveller_cabinThe man next to me on the my five-hour flight sounds like a pig searching for truffles. Apparently these porcine snuffles and snorts are his way of alleviating the sinus congestion of a cold. Unfortunately, his undoubted need for a shower evokes a similar comparison. And he manages, in the course of the flight, to add the rich aroma of a brewery. Apparently beer is the new Dristan.

After three hours, I retreated to the rear of the cabin to chat with whichever flight attendant wasn’t busy. They offered their own nightmare passenger stories. It got me thinking that it might be time for a list of do’s and don’ts for passengers.

So, from what I learned from them, and from my own countless hours in the air, I herewith offer my list of suggestions for airline etiquette.  Needless to say, inappropriate sexual behaviour  is absolutely verboten.


  1. Please eschew garlic-laden dishes 24 hours before flying. Your seat mate(s) will have to bear the brunt of your breath. Worse, some people actually exude the smell from their pores.
  2. For goodness sake, have a shower. Sweaty armpits and other malodorous body parts are very offensive. This is a huge concern for the poor attendants who not only have to deal with the odor when serving them but also with the complaints from other passengers who want to change seats.shower_head
  3. Perfume and cologne should be used sparingly (preferably not at all). Indeed, some people have severe asthmatic reactions to strong odors so this could be serious. Note that sprinkling either of these liberally is not a viable solution for offense number 2.Stinky Feet Not Allowed
  4. Many travellers like to remove their shoes on a plane. I have done so myself on long flights. If you plan to do this, please ensure that a) your socks and b) your feet are clean. Flight attendants have to deal with the complaints of seatmates dealing with the odor and might even have to ask you to replace your shoes. Embarrassing! But note this. Being prone to airsickness myself, I can guarantee that smelly feet is likely to bring this on and it’s not going to be pleasant for either of us!
  5. With so many airlines dropping meal service, passengers often bring food aboard. Choose wisely. Remember that the aroma of your food might be delightful when you first bring it aboard but after recirculating for four hours, it may be unpleasant.
  6. Why do people on cell phones feel the need to shout? The phone amplifies your conversation perfectly well. Fortunately, we have to turn these off for the flight though the period before take-off and after landing can be very noisy as these self-important schmucks make ‘important business calls’. Even after the announcement to turn off cell phones, some passengers think they are beyond the rule. Flight attendants sometimes have to be very firm.
  7. If you have a bad cold, cough, flu – stay home!! Or take a heavy duty decongestant, antihistamine, anything! Humorously, the lady in the seat on the other side of the aisle from my sniffling neighbour pulled her scarf around her face like a mask each time he did this.240_f_89990364_q12sevor9c0b428wcmrduh8ycoxmhjjo
  8. Alcohol is not the solution – to anything! Moderate drinking please. Note that Vitamin C in the form of juice might actually help you feel better.
  9. Courtesy is always appreciated. My attendant friends told me that it only takes one rude passenger to spoil the flight for those sitting around the individual and for them as staff dealing with it. Examples: a) the person who insists they booked the window/aisle seat and are NOT going to sit in the middle (faced with no choice they then make the flight miserable for all concerned); b) the person who complains loudly that they want a cup of hot coffee minutes before landing time or on a short leg flight without time for brewing; c) the passenger who puts on earphones and refuses to respond to others – either seatmates needing the toilet or attendant trying to get their attention; d) the person who shoves his feet, arms, hair, etc. into another passengers comfort zone.
  10. The seats are narrow, the space is limited, but keep your feet out of the aisle.  Attendants need to get by with carts, and other passengers can trip, especially on darkened planes.

I’ve probably left a few out, but you get the picture. If you really want the picture, Google passenger shaming online or on Instagram. These people make WalMartians look sane. While some might feel this is unfair, I tend to think that if you insist on removing your shirt or clipping your toe nails during a flight, you’ve relinquished any claim to dignity.