One train ride may be worth a thousand

on 10:18 pm

In my 18 years of living in Canada (from 1979 to 1997) I only rode the train once.

As we all know, Canada is a vast country. Getting from one place to the next can take hours on end if not days or even weeks. Flying is most definitely one of Canada's best friends. Here in Portugal, to get around the country, you can opt for the Rede Expresso (buses) or CP (trains) as far as public transportation goes. In Canada you can take Via Rail or the Greyhound bus. For those living in the northern outreaches of Canada, however, seldom do rail or 'the dog' become travelling options. And this is the very reason why in my 18 years living in Prince George, B.C., I only rode the train once.

It was on a trip to Vancouver in 1991. On the way down, the bus ride lasted (and still does) 12 hours. On the way back, as I ended up sleeping in, I also ended up missing the Greyhound back up north. My only option was Via Rail, a ride that would take an extra 2 hours compared to the bus. The first few hours on that Via Rail train provided some amazing scenery. The ride through the Coastal Mountains (before and after Whistler) was truely beautiful. The closer I got to Prince George, however, the less exciting things got. No knock on the scenery (although not as breathtaking), more like the fact one gets a little sick of being on a train.

Jump forward to October, 2009. A couple of years ago I spent 33 days travelling to Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal to carry out fieldwork with Portuguese-Canadian descendants. From Ottawa to Montreal there I was again for the second time on a train in Canada.

I thought back to that Vancouver to Prince George trip 18 years earlier and thought about how distance truly makes Canada different. Not only different in comparison to a country like Portugal, where bus and train and getting around is a lot easier, but also different within itself. I mean Ottawa to Montreal is a couple of hours on the train. Rail travel around Ontario and Quebec is a lot more common; locations a lot closer. And for this very reason there are a lot of Canadians that also don't 'get Canada', at least not the complete package. In Vancouver they say "there's no hope beyond Hope (the town)". That's because many have never gone beyond Hope (outside Vancouver's Lower Mainland). For these folks, Canada is truly not the vast country those in rural communities and far off towns know. But then again, maybe this is common to big city folk in general. Surely for us who live in the metropolis, we may ride a lot more trains and buses, but the truth is we ain't getting far. God only knows how many times I've ridden the Lisbon - Cascais train line, for example. Equally beautiful - as much as I try not to take it for granted - but the truth is there are times when it feels like we're approaching Prince George on that line as well.

Our Good Canadian Swastikas

on 7:47 pm

When we think of the swastika symbol, we thing hate mongering Nazism. If you go to wikipedia and punch in 'swastika', however, you'll soon find out that the swastika has actually been around for over 12,000 years and actually has other meanings that completely oppose hate mongering. To give you an example, the swastika remains widely used in Indian religions, especially in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, primarily as a sacred symbol of good luck. Puch it up on the net if you want to learn more.

Ok so at this point you might be asking yourself, what is a blog calling itself Canadians in Portugal doing writing about the swastika? The answer's easy. The swastika is also part of Canadian culture, history and geography.

Swastika, Ontario. ... Ever heard of it? A mining town founded in 1908, today Swastika sits within the municipal boundaries of Kirkland Lake, Ont. Interesting to note, during World War II the province of Ontario sought to change the town's name to Winston in honour of Winston Churchill, but residence refused, insisting that the town had held the name long before the Nazis co-opted the swastika symbol.

So geographically, the swastika sees its presence in the form of a town. Culturally, however, the swastika found itself ingrained in Canada's sporting past time - hockey. Did you know that Canada possessed 3 teams all of them calling themselves the Swastikas and, unsurprisingly, all existed before the Second World War? Let me tell you a bit about them.

The first Swastikas team played out of the town of Windsor, Nova Scotia, ironically also known as the birthplace of hockey. The Windsor Swastikas existed from 1905 to 1916 as a touring hockey club playing up and down the east coast of Canada. The picture below are the 1912 Swastikas.

As the Atlantic coast Swastikas were coming to an end in 1916, across Canada in Edmonton, Alberta, a ladies hockey team came together calling themselves ... yes, you guessed it, the Swastikas. Little is know about the ladies Swastikas out of Edmonton. Their games were limited to the city of Edmonton with the exception of Winter Carnivals in places like Calgary and Banff. The harsh Prairie winters were certainly not permissive of long road trips for any team in those days. These are the 1916 ladies of the Edmonton Swastikas:

Half-a-dozen years after the coming together of the Edmonton Swastikas, just a little further west, another lady Swastikas team was coming together in the town of Fernie out in Kootney region of British Columbia. The lady Swastikas from Fernie would go on to have plenty of success in the 4 years they were together winning the 1922 Calgary Winter Carnival, beating the hometown Calgary Regents in the final; the 1923 Banff Winter Cup, beating the Vancouver Amazons to again become champions; and in 1926, where runners-up at the Banff Winter Carnival losing to the Edmonton Monarchs in the last game they would play. The Fernie Swastikas below.

And so there you have it, Canada's relation with the Swastika. An international movement calling themselves Reclaiming the Swastika makes reference to Canada's past relations with the symbol as a strategy to reclaim the swastika. Surely no matter how much they try, any guy you see with a swastika tattoo on his body, who among us will not be thinking: neo-Nazi hater. It's sad but it's true.

Regressa Urgente / Return Urgent

on 2:09 pm

About a year and a half ago I carried out an interview with Marta Raposo, a Portuguese-Canadian fado singer, for a project on the return to Portugal of Portuguese emigrant descendants. Marta's story and reflections on her return experience were very interesting, so much so that I decided to approach my fellow CEMRI, Universidade Aberta researcher and filmmaker António Saraiva (his works include: Gente de Fajãs, Orlando Ribeiro, among others) with the idea of filming Marta. After selling the idea on António, we appraoched Marta to see if she'd be interested in being films for a possible documentary, only to find out that she was contemplating another return, back to Montreal, Canada. This added a new twist to the story, one we definitely wanted to capture. We filmed Marta for nearly two months, leading up to her departure.

We are now happy to show the fruits of our labour in the form of Regressa Urgente (Return Urgente), a documentary on the the final days of a dream chasing emigrant descendant returnee in Portugal.

Here's the film's synopsis:

Marta Raposo emigrated to Montreal, Canada with her parents at the age of 9. Possessing an enormous passion for singing and the Portuguese language, at the age of 16 she initiated her musical career, becoming the lead singer of a Portuguese popular music group. Early on, however, Marta quickly discovered that her true musical love lied not in popular music, but instead, in the 'Portuguese national song' - fado. Thus, at the age 18, Marta stepped on stage at the Portuguese Club of Montreal to perform fado for the first time, never to look back. Since that performance - with every song, with every ovation, with every word of encouragement - her passion for the 'Portuguese national song' grew, as did her ambitions. As a result, in 2005, after 8 years of singing fado in Canada, Marta set out to accomplish a dream - to record and launch an album and make it in the world of fado in Portugal.

We catch up with Marta 5 years after her arrival in Portugal. After numerous adventures in the Portuguese fado world, including the launch of her first album in 2009, we follow her steps, observe her relationships and capture her last performances. We collect her thought, her doubts and regrets, exploring her sense of belonging and the reasons for once again emigrating, revealing that not even the strongest desires are enough to sustain this 'fadista' (fado singer) in the 'land of fado'.

And so now it's our goal to get the film out to as many people as we can. The first official showing will take place in Toronto at York University Wednesday, Oct. 12th at 17:00 ( Future showings will be posted. Any questions, suggestions, or simply interested in finding out more, please let us know either here on the blog or on our facebook page.